The Government has demanded energy suppliers stop forcing financially stretched households to switch to prepayment meters.
UK business secretary Grant Shapps vowed to “name and shame” the worst offenders after members of the public spoke out about the impact the devices were having on the cost of living crisis.
A Citizens Advice report last week showed hundreds of thousands of customers were being forcibly moved onto prepayment meters.
According to Citizens Advice, someone is being cut off from their energy supply every ten seconds.
With millions unable to afford to top up their prepayment meters, self-disconnections have rocketed, the report found. This is when people go without power as they cannot afford it.
Some people found their smart meters switched to prepayment mode remotely while others have been confronted at their door by teams sent by energy companies armed with magistrates’ court warrants.
In December, campaigners took to the streets in Glasgow amid freezing temperatures to call on the Government to take action.
In wind and snow, protestors stood outside the offices of Scottish Power and SSE to highlight the issue.
Shapps has written to companies demanding they end the practice of forcibly moving households onto more expensive pre-paid energy tariffs.
He asked suppliers to reveal the number of warrant applications they have made to forcibly enter properties to install meters.
He said the firms should try harder to help those struggling with their bills by offering credit or debt advice first.
“Suppliers are clearly jumping the gun and moving at-risk customers onto prepayment meters before offering them the support they are entitled to – I simply cannot believe that every possible alternative has been exhausted in all these cases,” Shapps said.
“I am deeply concerned to see reports of customers being switched to prepayment meters against their will, with some disconnected from supply – and quite literally left in the dark.
“Rather than immediately reaching for a new way to extract money out of customers, I want suppliers to stop this practice and lend a more sympathetic ear, offering the kind of forbearance and support that a vulnerable customer struggling to pay should be able to expect.”
It comes after energy bills have soared due to rampant inflation and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Citizens Advice welcomed the Government’s call for energy suppliers to stop forcing people onto prepayment meters.
Head of energy policy Gillian Cooper said: “It’s now up to suppliers to do the right thing and end this practice. If they don’t, the Government must step in with stronger action. It’s also vital further protections are brought in for people already using prepayment meters.”
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