The CEO of Christian charity Pilgrim’s Friend Society says new rules exempting those aged 85 and over from forcibly having an energy prepayment meter fitted don’t go far enough.
Energy suppliers in England, Wales and Scotland have agreed a new code of conduct on fitting pre-payment meters in which they won't be able to forcibly install them to those aged over 85 or to people with a terminal illness. Firms will also have to contact other customers at least ten times before installing a prepayment meter.
Stephen Hammersley, who is also Chair of Faith in Later Life, told Premier that while he welcomes the measures, he fears the age criteria means many people will still experience difficulties by having a prepayment meter :
“I think the government has to be commended on taking this step, but the challenge is that there'll be some people aged under 85, who also have mobility problems, who also need to stay warm. They also need to cook their food and they won't be caught by these measures. So that is a risk.”
More people have been switched to prepayment meters since the increase in energy prices. Suppliers say the meters can help indebted customers manage their spending. But campaigners are concerned many vulnerable consumers risk running out of credit leaving them without light and heat.
Prepayment meter customers also typically pay more for their energy than those paying by direct debit.
Stephen Hammersley says he doesn’t believe this is the right approach :
“It’s clearly nonsense that people who tend to be poorer, tend to be more vulnerable, or have to both pay more and have a more complex process for making sure that they can cook warm food and stay warm, particularly during the winter months. And so that's not an equitable way of doing things.
“I guess the ideal situation would be where the system is geared so that people who are vulnerable, who are frail get that help, irrespective of an arbitrary age band. For many people in middle age with some form of disability trudging off to a prepayment shop to top up their metre is extremely inconvenient and indeed dangerous.”
Some campaigners have also expressed disappointment that there hasn’t been an outright ban on force fitting prepayment meters. But the regulator Ofgem says it needs to balance managing debt, while also protecting vulnerable customers.