Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has given energy bosses a deadline of Tuesday 7 February 2023 to report back to him on what remedial action – such as providing compensation – they plan to take should they have wrongfully installed prepayment meters in the homes of vulnerable customers.
It comes in the wake of British Gas admitting fault as a result of The Times investigation which showed even those with small children or medical conditions have not been shown forbearance, with reports of debt collectors breaking into homes to install the equipment.
But these findings by The Times newspaper follow several reviews by Ofgem of the services provided by energy suppliers, which have not identified this unacceptable behaviour – or other significant shortcomings – and have in some cases even given companies a clean bill of health.
Therefore the Business Secretary has today told Ofgem to toughen up on energy suppliers and investigate the customers’ experience of how their supplier is performing.
He called on the regulator to set up a new customer reporting system for households to pass on their own stories of how they are being treated – especially those who are vulnerable – and not just rely on energy firm bosses to share information with their regulator.
Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“I am appalled that vulnerable customers struggling with their energy bills have had their homes invaded and prepayment meters installed when there is a clear duty on suppliers to provide them with support. They need to refocus their efforts on their consumers, the British public, who are at the receiving end of this abhorrent behaviour.
“I’m also concerned the regulator is too easily having the wool pulled over their eyes by taking at face value what energy companies are telling them. They need to also listen to customers to make sure this treatment of vulnerable consumers doesn’t happen again.”
News reports across the country have highlighted examples of the forced installation of prepayment meters in the homes of those who are struggling to pay their bills.
The regulator has also been asked to toughen up their reviews, going beyond the company headquarters to find out what is really happening in people’s homes by hearing from them directly and engaging more with charities and other groups that represent consumers.
Currently, energy suppliers are required to provide Ofgem with information to demonstrate how they comply with the rules on supporting vulnerable consumers, on customers struggling to pay and on the fitting of prepayment meters.
The Business Secretary wants to see the voices of consumers and those who champion their needs heard when deciding which energy companies are meeting expectations – with a customer reporting hotline being just one example we would want the regulator to consider.
On Thursday night a number of suppliers announced they would suspend forced installations after being pushed by Ofgem to pause the practice while they reassure the regulator they’re complying with the rules.
However, just over a week ago the Business Secretary launched a crackdown on the mistreatment of energy users by suppliers, already asking them to voluntarily commit to stopping this practice. He also demanded they share the number of warrants they’ve applied for in recent months and plans to publish the findings.
Earlier this week the Energy and Climate Minister also met British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea and expressed his horror at recent reports. He made it clear this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, especially from such a key and longstanding British company.
He urged Mr O’Shea to take urgent steps to repair the damage done to British Gas’ reputation and urgently come back to him outlining the role he will personally take to fix these cultural issues.
The British Gas boss was also told by the Minister that vulnerable, mistreated customers need to be identified and redress provided. He will be monitoring matters extremely closely to make sure this happens.