Energy industry leaders and watchdogs reacted with repulsion today at a report that bailiffs hired by British Gas had rejoiced in breaking into at least one vulnerable customer’s home before forcibly installing prepayment meters.
The Times newspaper disclosed its investigation this morning. An undercover reporter joined British Gas-contracted bailiffs Arvato Financial Solutions, hired to control debts, including with warrant-backed installations of the card-based meters.
The reporter was present as the bailiffs’ workers broke into an unoccupied home to install the meter.
Among other warrant-backed forcible installations also witnessed was one at the home of a single father with three children, and one at the home of a woman with mobility difficulties.
“There is nothing that can be said to excuse it,” Chris O’Shea, CEO of BG parent Centrica, said when informed of the violations. British Gas will stop such installations, he said.
An Ofgem spokesperson said:
“These are extremely serious allegations from The Times. We are launching an urgent investigation into British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.
“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.
“We have launched a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it.
“We are clear that suppliers must work hard to look after their customers at this time, especially those who are vulnerable. The energy crisis is no excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.”
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “horrified” by the findings.
The Citizens Advice charity is Britain’s statutory protector of disadvantaged & vulnerable customers in their dealings with energy suppliers. Its CEO Dame Clare Moriarty lambasted the industry.
“The rotten core of debt collection practice in the energy sector has now been exposed for all to see”, the watchdog’s chief thundered. “But this isn’t a case of one bad apple”.
“The rules are clear but they haven’t been followed. That’s why we’ve been calling for a ban on forced installations since last summer, when the scale of the problem began to emerge.
“It should not have taken this long but we welcome Ofgem’s announcement”, Moriarty said.
“We now need robust new protections. And suppliers must conduct an immediate review to make sure no one’s been left on a prepayment meter when it isn’t safe for them.”
In 2022, Citizens Advice saw more people unable to afford to top up their prepayment meter than for the entirety of the previous 10 years combined.