Forced installation of prepayment meters will from November 8 be banned in homes of solo consumers aged 75 or older, or containing children aged 2 and under.
Ofgem today injects steel into its Code of Conduct governing the controversial devices, making compulsory rules which until now suppliers could ignore.
After a public consultation over the summer, the meters code will now be embedded in energy companies’ supply licences. Breaches lay retailers open to enforcement action and fines.
In April, at the regulator’s urging, all energy companies signed up to the then voluntary guidelines.
At that time, the no-install rule applied to customers aged 85 or older, or to households with residents facing health problems including terminal illnesses or other medical dependencies.
No suppliers are thought at present to be carrying out involuntary installations.
The new rules come into effect on 8 November after a mandatory 56-day notice period. Ofgem says they will ensure they are acting in a fair and responsible way with involuntary installations used only as a last resort.
Ofgem’s strategy director Neil Kenward said: “Protecting the most vulnerable consumers is at the heart of what we do, and this decision not only cements the protections Ofgem put in place for people deemed most at risk, it goes further to protect the most vulnerable household
Citizens Advice is conducting its own enquiry into the meters, and suppliers’ remote switching of clients facing payment difficulties.
Last year the charity advised more people without eough cash to top up their prepayment meter than for all of the previous 10 years combined.
“The harm caused by the prepayment meter scandal must never be allowed to be repeated”, its boss Dame Claire Moriarty said this morning.
“As energy bills soared, far too many people were forced onto meters they simply couldn’t afford to keep topped up, often with devastating results”, she went on.
“Ofgem’s decision does not go far enough to stop all families with children aged 5 and under from being forced onto a prepayment meter. That poses a significant risk which we will be monitoring closely.
“As we head into what will be yet another incredibly difficult winter for many, it’s essential suppliers ensure that none of their vulnerable customers are forced onto a prepayment meter”.