Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action held a protest outside the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DfES) on Wednesday 8 November. Clearly, the DfES was rattled – as security ended up locking all the doors. However, Fuel Poverty Action’s protest still highlighted a ongoing scandal: energy suppliers forcing people onto extortionate prepayment meters.
Prepayment meters: an ongoing scandal
As the Canary reported back in February, energy companies in the UK could obtain court warrants that allowed them to enter people’s homes and fit the pay-as-you-go (‘prepayment’) meters. This was when customers had fallen into arrears with their energy bills. They were 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. This prompted uproar from the public and politicians – even though the practice had actually been going on since 1954.
So, the energy regulator Ofgem and courts stopped energy suppliers from forcing customers to have prepayment meters. However, as the Morning Star reported:
Ofgem introduced a self-regulating code of practice for energy providers enabling them to resume forced break-ins and installations.
Scottish Power has now reportedly secured warrants and broken into the homes of mothers with young children to force them onto prepay meters using the code. But the firm claims it was unaware of the customers’ circumstances and would not have installed a meter forcibly had this become clear.
Now, the government is considering lifting the current pseudo-ban – even thought energy companies are already forcing prepayment meters upon people, regardless. So, Fuel Poverty Action went to the front door of the DfES to make it loud and clear this would be unacceptable.
Fuel Poverty Action’s protest
The group delivered a giant (and impressively-created) prepayment meter to the DfES – highlighting the scale of the problem:
Right now outside Dept for Energy Security and Net Zero, a GIANT prepayment meter has been delivered as part of Fuel Poverty Action protest against planned forced fitting of meters this Winter #EnergyForAll #BanForcedPPMs pic.twitter.com/4Egpc6h0NU
— Fuel Poverty Action (@FuelPovAction) November 8, 2023
There were banners and speakers – with representatives from Greenpeace UK and 350 org also supporting the action:
You can watch a video round up, with interviews, of Fuel Poverty Action’s protest below:
⌛️ Time for this government to pay its debts!
— Fuel Poverty Action (@FuelPovAction) November 9, 2023
Prepayment meters, and energy companies forcing them onto people, are a huge problem. In 2022 alone:
- Energy companies forced 600,000 people to have meters.
- 3.2 million people ran out of gas or electric at least once.
- Older, chronically ill, disabled, and low-income people were targeted.
Campaign group the Chronic Collaboration was supporting Fuel Poverty Action. It highlighted on X some of the major issues with prepayment meters for chronically ill and disabled people. It noted that:
One million households on extortionate & poverty-inducing prepayment meters have a chronically ill and/or disabled person living in them
Last year, around 130,000 homes with a chronically ill and/or disabled person in them were running out of gas and/or electric at least ONCE A WEEK due to prepayment meters.
And the Chronic Collaboration also noted that 24,000 prepayment homes with a chronically ill and/or disabled person in them went without power for two days or more. Overall, the group said:
Being chronically ill &/or disabled costs you at least £975 a month MORE to live to the same standard as a non-disabled person.
— @TheChronicCollaboration (@TheChronicColab) November 8, 2023
Paula Peters from campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was also at the protest. She noted how Rishi Sunak reportedly splashed out huge sums of money on energy to heat his private swimming pool – while poor older people are forced to sit on buses or go to warm hubs all day just to keep themselves heated in winter:
At the @FuelPovAction protest outside the DfES over forced prepayment meters, @paulapeters2 from @Dis_PPL_Protest now speaking about Sunak heating his swimming pool versus fuel poverty #BanForcedPPMs #EnergyForAll #ColdHomesKill pic.twitter.com/vWBeHAtLl9
— Canary (@TheCanaryUK) November 8, 2023
Fuel Poverty Action wants the government to ban energy companies from forcing people to have prepayment meters. It is also calling on the government to ban energy company standing charges – which cost us all £25 a month before we even use any gas or electric.
‘Energy For All’ this winter
Overall, the DfES clearly felt rattled by Fuel Poverty Action’s protest – as security ended up locking the doors to the building:
— Steve Topple (@MrTopple) November 8, 2023
Our founder @NicolaCJeffery banging on the door of the Department for Energy Security – after they locked the building down thanks to @FuelPovAction protest 😅 #BanForcedPPMs #EnergyForAll #ColdHomesKill prepayment meters are a travesty for chronically ill and disabled people pic.twitter.com/NefjTbkxBJ
— @TheChronicCollaboration (@TheChronicColab) November 8, 2023
The protest was an effective display of the issues surrounding prepayment meters. However, this is just the start of Fuel Poverty Action’s campaigning this winter. As well as its ongoing #EnergyForAll campaign, it is holding two days of nationwide actions on 1-2 December. Called ‘Warm Ups‘, Fuel Poverty Action says these local events:
are a way to highlight fuel poverty and bring about change. They are based on the principle that if we can’t afford to heat our own homes, we have a right to go into any public space and keep warm there – and talk to passers-by, hold a speak-out, or a discussion, or a party! Or just put on woolly hats and gather outdoors to speak our minds!
The group will be releasing more details on these soon. For now, though, Fuel Poverty Action and its allies sent a clear message to the government and the DfES over prepayment meters: that they won’t be allowing energy companies to continue to force them onto customers without a fight.
Featured image and additional images via the Canary
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