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Warning as Warrants issued to force-fit PrePayment Meters

The National Pensioners’ Convention has issued a warning after news that a court has granted the first warrants in months to allow the force-fitting of pre-payment meters.

It is the first time since February that energy providers – in this case Scottish Power – could legally apply to force entry to the homes of customers with unpaid electric and gas bills to fit PPMs.

Reports of vulnerable people having their homes broken into led the industry regulator Ofgem to issue a new Code of Practice to protect them.

This means that despite the warrants, Scottish Power will still only be able to enforce them if Ofgem agrees they have adhered to the Code.

Warning as Warrants issued to force-fit PrePayment Meters

However, NPC fears that the recent granting of a block of 124 applications for warrants to Scottish Power by a court in Reading will re-open the floodgates, and warns that Ofgem’s Code of Practice is strictly non-negotiable.

NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt said: “It is interesting that Scottish Power have had warrants passed before 8th November when Ofgem’s mandatory regulations covering energy providers come into force.

“The NPC is against magistrates signing warrants for forced entry in bulk. Magistrates have the overriding power when it comes to human rights, and we expect that they will take genuine steps to ensure that every application for a warrant to force entry to fit a prepayment meter will be vigorously scrutinised to ensure adherence to the Ofgem Code of Practice.

We recognise this will cause delays, but the alternative is to breach individual human rights and cause distress to those struggling with paying bills.”

NPC has been campaigning for some time to end the force-fitting of PPMs, alongside organisations such as the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum.

Courts & energy providers must stick to Ofgem Code before allowing force-fit of PPMs

Jan said: “The NPC prefers to see an end to the use of prepayment meters with an agreed strategy to transfer those customers who do not want them back to a payment scheme that enables them to be debt free.”

Scottish Power told the Reading court that it had made repeated attempts to contact the customers involved, some of whom had built up debts of more than £2,000. They also said they would not enforce the warrants without the approval of Ofgem.

Households protected by the Code include those with children under two, those with residents over 75, or those living with terminal or other conditions.

Jan Shortt made the following points:

  • “Every individual has the human right to speak for themselves or to have the support of an advocate if needed before a warrant is executed.

  • Courts must not rely on energy providers alone for evidence - the Ofgem Code of Practice requires a paper trail before the Court even considers a warrant.

  • We accept that some customers will simply ignore telephone calls, texts, letters, emails, but there may be valid reasons for that. Individuals in debt often cannot find a way out without support. They may be older or vulnerable customers who are frightened or confused about what to do.

This is particularly so in the case where there is no free or extra income to start paying back a debt.

  • Finally, even though Ofgem regulations do protect those over 75, there are vulnerable individuals of all ages and energy providers must follow the Code of Practice for all of them.”

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