More than 94,000 prepayment meters were last year forcibly installed in homes without customer consent – 70% of them by British Gas, Scottish Power and OVO Energy, new figures show.
More than 7,500 were fitted every month, according to data supplied by firms to Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps.
British Gas, Scottish Power and OVO Energy fitted a total of 66,187 devices under warrant, with Scottish Power “the worst offender” in relation to its customer base by forcing more than 24,300 meters into its customers’ homes.
Mr Shapps said: “Today’s figures give a clear and horrifying picture of just how widespread the forced installation of prepayment meters had become, with last year seeing an average of over 7,500 force-fitted a month.
“Prepayment meters are right for some people, so I do not want to ban them outright, but I do have concerns that companies have not been treating their customers fairly, over an already difficult winter during which the Government has tried to help families by paying around half the energy bill of the average household.
“After my calls for change, I’m pleased that suppliers have made their actions public and agreed to put a stop to forcing prepayment on to vulnerable customers for good – but this cannot happen again.
“I will be watching (industry regulator) Ofgem’s ongoing review closely so customers get the support they need – and those vulnerable consumers who have wrongly suffered forced installations get the justice they deserve in the form of redress.”
Minister for energy, consumers and affordability Amanda Solloway said: “Another increase in the number of energy bill support vouchers redeemed by customers is great news, but I urge those that haven’t done so to use them as soon as possible – and suppliers must continue to do everything they can to make sure this happens.
“We will not stand for the mistreatment of vulnerable customers who have been forced on to prepayment meters. I welcome the move from Ofgem to make it easier for customers to report cases but this can’t be a one off, and suppliers must now offer redress to those they have wronged.”
Prepayment meters have been in the spotlight after some energy suppliers were caught breaking into the homes of people struggling to pay their bills to forcibly install them.
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 subsequently banned from installing prepayment energy meters under warrant, but that moratorium is due to expire at the end of March.
Alongside the Government’s crackdown on unacceptable behaviour from suppliers, Lord Justice Edis issued directions for magistrates’ courts to stop all warrants that allow companies to force-fit the meters.
Ofgem is reviewing the use of prepayment meters and companies have been instructed to investigate and offer redress such as compensation to customers where the meters were wrongly installed and regulations not followed.
Last week, the regulator extended the ban on forced installations of prepayment meters until a new code of practice is agreed by energy companies.