All UK household energy suppliers have agreed to a ban on forcibly installing prepayment meters (PPMs) in the homes of people over the age of 85, the industry regulator has announced.
Ofgem said suppliers have signed up to a new code of practice which will also see them give customers more chances to clear debts.
PPMs have been in the spotlight after some energy suppliers, including British Gas, were caught breaking into the homes of people struggling to pay their bills to forcibly install them.
The tougher rules also mean that energy suppliers and their contractors must make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer and carry out a site welfare visit before a PPM can be installed.
Suppliers will also need to avoid forced installations where a “continuous supply” of energy is needed for health reasons, such as for the terminally ill, as well as for people over 85 years of age.
Energy firms will also be required to make representatives fitting them wear body cameras or audio equipment.
Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “Ofgem’s new voluntary code of practice is a minimum standard that clearly sets out steps all suppliers must take before moving to a PPM.
“If and when involuntary PPMs are used, it must be as a last resort, and customers in vulnerable situations will be given the extra care and consideration they deserve, over and above the rules already in place, by suppliers – something that has clearly not always been happening.
“This new code of practice means for some people PPMs should never be installed, and for high-risk groups their energy needs must be protected with a higher level of consideration.”
The regulator said it will consult on whether the voluntary code of practice can be made legally binding ahead of the next winter.
Campaigners have called on the regulator to take swift action against any suppliers which fail to stick to the new rules.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “This voluntary code of practice is a much-needed improvement in the protections people have against the forced installation of a prepayment meter by energy companies.
“It’s now up to suppliers to follow the rules and for Ofgem to crack down quickly on any sign of bad practice.
“The regulator must also act swiftly to make this voluntary code mandatory.”
Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “This code of practice simply does not go far enough and the fact it is voluntary undermines its objective.
“There are really vulnerable groups which have been omitted from its full protection and we have serious concerns about how it will be implemented, such as how people will prove their medical conditions without being humiliated by an energy firm health inspection.”
In February, an investigation by The Times revealed how vulnerable customers – including disabled and mentally ill people – were being forced by British Gas on to the pay-as-you-go meters or having their gas switched off.
Firms were temporarily banned from installing prepayment energy meters under warrant.