Prepayment meter cut off every 10 seconds in UK last year

Prepayment meter cut off every 10 seconds in UK last year

Around 3.2 million people across Great Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up, the equivalent to one person every 10 seconds, new research from Citizens Advice has found.

The charity also found more than two million people are being disconnected at least once a month. And more than one in five (19%) prepayment meter customers cut off in the past year then spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity, leaving them unable to turn the heating on or cook a hot meal.

The consumer watchdog said it is particularly concerned about disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions. Nearly one in five (18%) households including someone in this group, who ran out of credit last year, went on to spend two days or more without energy supply.

In 2022 Citizens Advice saw more people who can’t top up their prepayment meter than in the whole of the last 10 years combined. That grim record broke even the charity’s predictions for the amount of people it would help with the issue in the last year.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, has rules that means certain groups, such as disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, should not be forced onto a prepayment meter.

Citizens Advice previously raised concerns to Ofgem and the government that it had seen evidence of suppliers forcing people in these groups onto prepayment meters. In October, Ofgem warned suppliers that not enough was being done to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances before installing a prepayment meter.

Citizens Advice is now calling for a total ban on forced prepayment meter installations until new protections are introduced, ensuring households can no longer be fully cut off from gas and electricity.

The charity has seen a 229% increase in the past year in the number of people coming for help who can’t afford to top up their prepayment meter.

It’s heard from people forced onto a prepayment meter, unable to top up even though their medication needs to be refrigerated. And there are stories like that of a single parent with a young baby, left in the cold and the dark for 48 hours after her supplier switched her to a meter she couldn’t keep topped up.

Based on Ofgem figures, Citizens Advice estimates that 600,000 people were forced onto a prepayment meter because they couldn’t afford their energy bills in 2022. And it predicts 160,000 more people could be moved onto a prepayment meter by the end of winter if no further action is taken.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “All too often the people finding it hardest to pay their bills are being forced onto a prepayment meter they can’t afford to top up. This puts them at real risk of being left in cold, damp and dark homes.

“The staggering rise in the cost of living means many simply cannot afford to heat and power their homes to safe levels.

“New protections are needed to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity. Until then, there must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point onto prepayment meters. If Ofgem doesn’t act, the government must intervene.”

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