Prepayment meter customers going without food, heat and medicine, CAS report finds

Prepayment meter customers going without food, heat and medicine, CAS report finds

A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned about the spending choices prepayment meter consumers need to make as a result of paying upfront for energy.

The report highlights the case of one client with health conditions whose power had been off for three days and had no money to buy food or top up his meter.

In another case, a mother with significant health issues was struggling to keep up with her debt on her prepayment meter and was paying £80 per week to keep the supply on. She was prioritising feeding her children over herself. She has significant mobility issues as well as emphysema, arthritis and brittle bone disease, and uses a nebulizer and a stair lift.

In another case, a disabled client who had run out of money on a prepayment meter needed to switch the heating off to preserve remaining credit for lights and has had no food in the house. She has medication which requires to be taken with food so she has not taken it.

In a further example, a client had gone without power for three days and had thrown out insulin because the medicine needs to be refrigerated.

CAS also found examples of people being denied help by their suppliers because they had received help in the past. One was a single, bedbound man with mental health issues who was denied further help by his supplier because he had received additional support credit on three previous occasions. Elsewhere a working mother with a 5-year-old child was denied further help because she had received an additional support credit on nine previous occasions.

The report also finds a link between disabled people and prepayment meters.

Fifty per cent of those seeking disconnection of supply advice, who are primarily those with prepayment meters, also sought advice on disability benefits, suggesting around half of prepayment meter clients with disconnection issues have a disability or have someone in their home with a disability.

CAS social justice policy manager, Stephanie Millar, said: “With a prepayment meter, once it runs out of credit, that’s it. You have no more heating until you top it up again. Too often we see people who have run out of credit and are unable to top it up, so they just have no heating or light or TV or digital devices.

“The contents of the fridge freezer go off, and the family can’t use their washing machine. Disabled people who use stair lifts or mobility scooters are unable to charge these.

“Many of the cases we considered for this report show people making difficult decisions about how to allocate their income, which includes people who are reducing essential spending, such as food or rent, to top up their meter.

“Prepayment meters tend to be used by the most vulnerable people in society, such as those who struggle financially or people who are disabled, this report shows a link between consumers needing advice with disconnection issues from their meters and with disability benefits.”

She added: “In many cases these meters have created or exacerbated consumer vulnerability.

“We have seen in recent weeks the scandal of forced entry to install prepayment meters, and some of the problems outlined in this report show why no one should be forced onto a prepayment meter. It is also very worrying to see that people are being denied help on the grounds they have needed help in the past.

“The problems we’ve uncovered in this report are unacceptable. We need governments, energy suppliers, Ofgem and charities to all work together urgently to target help to this particularly vulnerable group of consumers.”

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