3.2 million clients on pre-payment meters saw their power supply terminated last year, equivalent to one disconnection every ten seconds, new research by Britain’s statutory watchdog on fuel poverty has found.
Analysis by Citizens Advice picks out 2022 as the nation’s worst year ever for domestic customers unable to afford a top up on their prepayment meter.
The charity is now calling for a total ban on forced prepayment meter installations until new protections are brought in.
Almost one in five – 19% – prepayment disconnections last year then left customers without gas or electricity for at least 24 hours, leaving them unable to turn the heating on or cook a hot meal.
Even in late 2022, Citizens Advice discovered more than two million homes were still being disconnected at least once a month.
Despite rules supposedly protecting them, people either disabled or in long term poor health, very often with higher energy needs, were affected equally badly, the CA’s research found. Nearly one in five – or 18% – households with anyone in this group, who ran out of credit last year, went on to spend two days or more without energy supply, the charity says.
That toll comes in the face of Ofgem’s ban on disabled people and those with long-term health conditions being forced onto prepayment, zero-credit meters.
The watchdog says it has warned Ofgem & ministers for years that suppliers were forcing vulnerable or low-credit consumers onto card-loaded meters, in breach of industry safeguards.
Over the twelve months to January, Citizens Advice counselled more people unable to top up their meters than in all of the last 10 years combined. Driven by rocketing energy prices, 2022’s total was over double the pre-payment customers who approached CA in 2021.
Three months ago, Ofgem warned suppliers that not enough was being done to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances before installing a prepayment meter.
Citizens Advice reveals that, even in the month following Ofgem’s intervention, more than a third of prepayment meter households including someone in long term poor health, were cut off from their energy supply at least once. That’s more than 470,000 struggling households left in the dark.
Figures for forced cut offs of low-credit customers have been on the rise for nearly a decade, Citizens Advice has found.
Based on Ofgem figures, Citizens Advice estimates that 600,000 people in 2022 were forced onto a prepayment meter because they couldn’t afford their bills. Unless suppliers take more care, it predicts 160,000 more could be moved onto a prepayment meter by the end of this winter.
Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty, pictured, 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.
Moriarty went on: “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”, the CA chief declared.
The figures are included in ‘Kept in the Dark’, a new CA report, available on request.