'Terrible landlords' install pay-as-you-go electric meters in vulnerable tenants' rooms

Vulnerable tenants in the Black Country are now being forced to pay for electric through pay-as-you-go meters in their rooms.

A pay-as-you-go electric meter
A pay-as-you-go electric meter

Pre-paid meter is the most expensive way of purchasing electric and tenants already struggling with the cost of living crisis are being left alone in darkness.

Having one meter per house is commonplace but installing meters in each room is new with renters being faced with the proposition in properties in Walsall, Wednesbury, Bilston and Wolverhampton.

Wednesfield South Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, who last month revealed desperate families in Wolverhampton were cutting themselves off from gas and electric due to fear of high bills, branded pay-as-you-go meters as "terrible".

He said: "Installing pay-as-you-go electric meters in rooms is terrible. I am lost for words. I am trying to find out how many of these are in Wolverhampton and what we can do about it.

"Landlords are obviously seeing pound signs now as electric bills are going up. Paying by the meter is very expensive, there are no deals to be made, so now we have the poorest and the most vulnerable sitting in the dark because they cannot afford to feed the meter."

Councillor Bulpinder Gakpal

Councillor Gakhal, who is in charge of housing in Wolverhampton, said: "We are seeing desperate families cutting themselves off from utilities - now people not being able to afford to pay the meter to have electric, it is so sad."

Big Help Homes advertise rooms at Spareroom.com across the Black Country and have installed electric meters in individual rooms.

Charging £95 per week for a room their adverts say: "Bills not included - electricity and Wi-Fi. Electric is a pay as you go meter located in your room and Wi-Fi is optional at £7.50 per month."

A spokesman for Big Help Homes said: "“Big Help purchased this portfolio of homes including the properties referred to in 2020 and has since invested over one million pounds in bringing them up to date and refurbished to a high standard. We are proud of our homes in this area.

"The meters referred to are standard issue meters in Houses of Multiple Occupation that we inherited from the previous owner.

"They are not linked to external meters and are a contribution from the tenant toward the electricity bill for the whole block that is paid by Big Help Homes. Any alternative arrangements for tenants in the current climate are likely to be much more expensive. Big Help Homes is a responsible landlord who always prioritise the needs of its tenants. Any tenant who was struggling financially will always be assisted as much as possible."

The Tenants Voice support group warned those using meters to guard against paying a debt incurred by former tenants.

A spokesman advised: "Landlords install prepayment meters for electricity and gas to ensure that certain utility provider bills are paid without having the problem of pursuing the tenant for any bills that may be outstanding at the end of the tenancy.

"However, many tenants may not have much, (if any), experience of prepaid meters.

"If you are moving into a rental property that has prepayment meters you need to be certain that you are not paying the previous tenant’s or your landlord’s debts."

He added: "If the landlord sells cards to you, the money you pay will be used to pay your energy bill. If the bill is not paid by the landlord or letting agents, the debt will be added to the meter by the energy company."

"This means that you will not only be paying for your own consumption of gas and electricity but also a percentage of the debt."

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