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Energy firm gives in to people power

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Following months of campaigning by charities, journalists and MPs, one energy firm has changed its policies to help people in energy debt.

Energy supplier OVO Energy says customers who have been struggling to pay their bills won’t be forced onto prepayment meters over Christmas.

The firm’s promise came in response to a demand from campaign group 38 Degrees, who recently wrote to all the UK’s major energy suppliers urging them to stop forcibly installing prepayment meters and remotely switching smart meters to prepayment mode without customer consent.

OVO also highlighted its suspension of debt recovery until at least March 2023 – meaning all customer top-ups will be used to pay for usage and standing charges only, not to pay off existing debts. Although, the firm insists the practice will resume in the spring, despite campaigners from Warm This Winter saying that two-thirds of pre-payment meter customers are classed as vulnerable.

Whilst OVO claims changes to its non-disconnect period will prevent self-disconnection, the firm has argued it would be “irresponsible” to commit to ending forced transfers altogether, despite growing consensus from MPs, charities and the public that the practice puts people’s health at risk. 

More than 25,000 people have added their names to a 38 Degrees petition, addressed to the CEOs of Britain’s major energy companies, demanding a total end to any switching without  active, informed consumer consent.

Matthew McGregor, CEO at 38 Degrees, said:

“By pledging not to push anyone into prepayment over the Christmas period, OVO is demonstrating they know just how damaging it is. Whilst it may be good news that struggling families won’t wake up to a prepayment meter on December 25th, they could still be facing disconnection by the backdoor come January.

“If it’s not acceptable at Christmas time, why should this harmful practice be considered business as usual for the rest of the year? 

“Every single time these multi-billion pound companies push a prepayment meter onto someone who is struggling, they’re risking another customer facing the stark choice between feeding the meter and feeding their family. 

“But they have the chance to do the right thing: put people before profit by committing to end all forced transfer to prepayment.” 

Meanwhile, pressure is also mounting on the Government to ban enforced transfers. 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

“Even the energy firms are now waking up to the reality that pre-payment meter customers are struggling in cold damp homes this winter.

“Research for the Warm This Winter campaign has shown that these customers are likely to be vulnerable or have health conditions made worse by being unable to stay warm. Many will have been forced onto a pre-payment meter against their will. 

“With MPs and charities increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of people in cold damp homes, we cannot leave their safety to chance. The Government must act urgently to ban any further forced installations of pre-payment meters either by court warrant or by smart meter.”