By B.N. Frank
Opposition to utility “smart” meters (electric, gas, and water) has been ongoing worldwide since they started being deployed over a decade ago. In the U.K., complaints and issues continue to make headlines (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) as energy providers have forced ½ million of the poorest households onto prepayment smart meters which can make bills even higher! Fortunately some consumers may be able to take legal action because of this and energy suppliers finally agreed to stop.
Energy firms agree to stop forcing vulnerable families on to prepayment meters, Grant Shapps announces
An investigation by i found courts had granted hundreds of thousands of warrants letting companies break into homes to fit prepayment meters.
All energy suppliers have committed to end the forced installation of prepayment meters in the homes of vulnerable people, Grant Shapps has announced.
The Energy Security Secretary said several companies failed to tell him how they would compensate families who had been wrongly placed on the controversial meters, which can leave people without light or heat.
It comes after an investigation by i found that courts in England and Wales had granted hundreds of thousands of warrants which allow firms to force entry into homes and forcibly fit the meters.
Mr Shapps said he had therefore found that “most suppliers are falling short on correcting their ways” and that halting forced installation was “only the beginning” of fixing the “abhorrent practice” of forcibly fitting prepayment meters into vulnerable customers’ homes.
He said he was still pushing suppliers to make good on failures and was angered that letters back to him from companies only offered “half the picture” because details on how they would fix wrongdoings were missing from several replies.
Mr Shapps said: “People will have understandably been shocked and appalled at how vulnerable people’s homes have been invaded and prepayment meters installed against their wishes – and suppliers are only at the beginning of correcting this abhorrent behaviour.”
“Since those reports were published, I have demanded answers from suppliers, and Ofgem: all suppliers are now halting forced installations, magistrates are no longer signing off warrant applications and Ofgem are upping their game when it comes to their reviews.
“But I am angered by the fact some have so freely moved vulnerable customers onto prepayment meters, without a proper plan to take remedial action where there has been a breach of the rules. So, I have only received half the picture as it still doesn’t include enough action to offer redress to those who have been so appallingly treated.
“This is simply not good enough and absolutely needs to be addressed by Ofgem’s review – I want to see plans from suppliers actually acted upon – and customers given the service they have a right to expect.”
Fuel poverty campaigners are pushing for vulnerable people who have been forced on to the meters to be compensated and to end the remote switching of smart meters to prepayment, which does not require a court warrant.
Energy UK, the industry body for energy suppliers, said all of its members have suspended the installation of prepayment meters under warrant and some suppliers including British Gas have also paused the remote switching of smart meters to prepayment, which does not require a court warrant.
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said the failure of several companies to tell Mr Shapps how they planned to compensate vulnerable families was “an insult to the victims of the pre-payment meters scandal”.
He said: “The truth is that they have invested time, money and resources in securing almost a million court warrants against households since 2020. Even if only a fraction of those are enforced this is still too many.
“Every one of those enforcements involves the energy firm breaking into someone’s home to impose on them a prepayment meter which is more expensive for that household than direct debit. They will also charge the household for the installation.”
Adam Scorer, the chief executive of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, said: “The Secretary of State is right to push for urgent action to protect vulnerable consumers.
“An immediate halt to forced installation of prepayment meters must be followed quickly with clarity on how many vulnerable households shouldn’t have had these meters installed, a suitable compensation package imposed by Ofgem, and then a full review of the prepayment market to see whether or not it can work for consumers and not just for suppliers.”
How i uncovered UK’s prepayment meters scandal
i‘s four-month investigation into prepayment energy meters began in October when we asked charities across the UK what would be the greatest cause of hardship for families in the coming winter fuel poverty crisis.
All of them said the same two words – prepayment meters.
i began to look into how warrants to force-fit these controversial devices were being processed by the courts.
But it proved a difficult task to find out even where the hearings were held. One court official said “you don’t want to go there”.
Another added: “Once the withdrawals are taken out, the rest are approved. Then we deal with the complaints”.
i eventually found a hearing in Wigan and watched how 496 utility warrants were approved in just three minutes and 51 seconds to a debt agent who dialled in by telephone.
We have since found that courts can process up to 1,000 warrants in hearings that last no more than 20 minutes.
After sending a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice, we also revealed that debt collecting firms acting on behalf of suppliers had obtained 500,000 warrants to enter properties since July 2021.
As MPs began asking what became more than 160 questions in the Commons – eventually raising the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions – the news broke at Christmas that some firms were pausing debt collection on the meters.
The investigation also revealed that the Ministry of Justice has no central record of exactly why the forced entry warrants – which firms cost just £22 each – are granted by courts, while magistrates said they had “no choice” but to let them go ahead.
We also confirmed that magistrates no longer have to sign the warrants in “wet ink”, with the College of Policing issuing advice after officers doubted the validity of the “extremely sparse” digital warrants, and how a new telephone application system in 2019 speeded up the process.
We also revealed how the court cases can be held hundreds of miles from customers’ homes, how they are not told in advance the date of the hearing except in the “extremely rare” chance they contest their case, and how magistrates make their decisions based on information provided by energy companies in a spreadsheet.
There is no doubt that prepayment “smart” meters are particularly heinous. Nevertheless, regular utility “smart” meters have been associated with
- billing errors as well as higher bills (see 1, 2),
- cybersecurity risks
- fires and explosions (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- installation mishaps
- harmful radiation emissions
- mechanical issues and
- short lifespans
Despite all of the above, utility companies continue to force “smart” meter installation on consumers (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) so they can remotely control and/or ration energy use (see 1, 2) as well as collect consumer usage data 24/7 to sell and/or share with 3rd parties (see 1, 2). Adding insult to injury, proponents continue to insist that “smart” meters are essential for “energy efficiency”, even though research has proven otherwise (see 1, 2, 3). Equally awful, consumers who pay fees to “opt-out” of “smart” meters are often provided with meters that aren’t as safe as traditional electromechanical meters.
Activist Post reports regularly about “smart” meters and other privacy invasive and unsafe technologies. For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:
- Stop Smart Meters UK
- Coalition to Stop Smart Meters
- Stop Smart Meters.org
- Smart Meter Harm
- Smart Grid Awareness
- Take Back Your Power
- Environmental Health Trust
- Physicians for Safe Technology
- Wireless Information Network
Top image: Pixabay
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