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Energy scandal forces government to act

Charities and campaigners have welcomed the Government’s decision to act after a long-running campaign against energy firms forcing prepayment meters onto households using the courts.

Campaigners first raised the issue in 2016 when protestors explained to the shareholders of British Gas’ parent company what was going on.

But the campaign against the practice ramped up in July when the Big Issue reported that the number of court warrants being granted to energy firms had increased massively and the End Fuel Poverty Coalition called for a total ban on the practice.

The i paper also launched an investigation into the issue which revealed that more than 500,000 warrants had been granted in 2022, with magistrates taking less than five minutes to approve batches of 500 warrants.

While energy firms continued to argue that the practice was limited and was not imposed on vulnerable households, journalists for the Times went undercover to prove otherwise.

Charity groups turned up the pressure on the Government in light of the investigation into British Gas and the energy regulator has acted to ban the practice for six months while inquiries are launched and energy firms have to set out to the Minister what steps they will take to rectify the problem and the compensation they will offer.

The chief justice of England & Wales has also stepped in to ban magistrates from issuing court warrants to install more prepayment meters.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action, told LBC that “the public won’t tolerate thousands of people being basically sentenced to death by the crime of being in debt to your energy company.”

Peter Smith from National Energy Action commented: “There now appears to be widespread evidence of a lack of effective adherence, or enforcement, of current licence conditions. This is leading to vulnerable people being forced onto prepayment meters by bulk magistrate warrants or remote switches.

 “It doesn’t just put those households directly affected at risk, it undermines confidence of millions vulnerable people to seek support from suppliers to get them through the worst of the energy crisis. Beyond supporting growing calls for a temporary ban on forced installs, we need to develop a bespoke plan to stop people building up debt and self-disconnecting in the first place. This means rewiring the energy market to provide more affordable tariffs and finding new ways to address the underlining debt issues, which are rife due to soaring energy costs.”

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.