Firms like British Gas have been breaking into people’s homes since the 1950s

British Gas van representing prepayment meters and energy
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The media and politicians are shocked to find out British Gas has been breaking into customers’ homes to install prepayment meters. Of course, if they’d bothered to listen to poor people they would have realised that energy firms have been doing this since 1954.

British Gas: corporate breaking and entering

As Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, energy supplier British Gas has announced that it would no longer “force-fit” prepayment meters in the homes of customers who are behind on their bills. Energy companies in the UK can obtain court warrants that allow them to enter people’s homes and fit the pay-as-you-go meters. Customers are then at risk of companies cutting their gas supply off if they fail to top them up.

However, an undercover investigation by the Times newspaper looked into this. It found that contractors working for British Gas sent debt collectors to “break into” homes and “force-fit” meters. Some of the customers the report identified had “extreme vulnerabilities”. Journalist Paul Morgan-Bentley went undercover with British Gas and exposed its practice. He noted that the company was breaking into the homes of disabled people:

Read on...

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British Gas’s parent company Centrica was clearly rattled by the story. It said on 2 February it was suspending “all warrant activity” as a result. Centrica will also launch an investigation. Politicians, meanwhile, were outraged:

However, energy firms breaking into people’s homes to fit prepayment meters is hardly news if you’re poor. This is because the government has let energy firms do it since 1954.

Nothing new – if you’re poor

As the website Dealing with Bailiffs wrote, energy firms like British Gas can force entry into people’s homes to either fit prepayment meters or cut them off. They can do this under:

Section 2 of the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954.

The energy firm has to have a “Warrant of Entry” notice from a magistrate. Dealing with Bailiffs noted that this:

allows a utility company warrant officer access to gas and electricity services in a property on application to a magistrate to lawfully break entry.

It is normally used when contact with the occupants has been unsuccessful and a utility service remains unpaid. A warrant of entry is used to either disconnect services or fit a pre-payment meter to the supply.

iNews reported on this in December 2022. It found that magistrates had granted nearly 500,000 Warrants of Entry since July 2021. iNews noted then that magistrates often signed off on the warrants without even asking if the customers were vulnerable. One magistrate reportedly did a batch-signing of “496 utility warrants in just three minutes and 51 seconds”.

Woe are the middle classes

Of course, if the Times and iNews had asked poor people in the first place then they wouldn’t have needed to investigate. However, why would they? Previously, fuel poverty, which would often lead to energy firms installing prepayment meters, was mostly confined to the poorest people. As the Resolution Foundation previously predicted, the cost of living crisis would change all this – and more middle-class people would be hit by fuel poverty:

A graph from the Resolution Foundation showing the extent of fuel poverty for rich and poor

So now British Gas are raiding slightly richer people’s houses, and suddenly the corporate media are interested – and politicians like Rishi Sunak call it “deeply shocking and concerning”. What’s really concerning is that no-one was interested in how energy firms were treating poor people – until now.

Featured image via Annasmith1986 – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. Truly, and absolutely shocking. Energy companies and their henchman bailiffs engaged in this ‘energy terrorism’ upon the vulnerable and the hard pressed unwary householder unable to pay energy company’s profiteering bills should be prosecuted without a doubt.

    2. I wondered why for some time SSE was not sending me a regular gas bill but was only receiving demands for a late payment. I simply paid promptly online as usual and thought little of it as I did not want the hassle of sorting
      it out in a long phone call (I have CFS). Then last year my regular meter somehow morphed into a smart meter in the front hallway which is fixed about 7 feet up on the wall. My landlord knew nothing about fitting. Currently they just bill me as usual, reading the meter themselves, but what a scam. Corporates seem to think they own us and regulatory bodies appear to be ‘captured.’ And I don’t trust Starmer’s lot to make things any better. (Small wonder they were so desperate to denigrate Jeremy Corbyn) Fixing real problems is off the table.

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