Senedd Committee urges immediate action on pre-payment meters to ‘save lives’

Published 30/11/2023   |   Last Updated 30/11/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

More support to stop vulnerable people being forced into using energy pre-payment meters ‘could save lives’, according to a Senedd Committee.

Launching on Fuel Poverty Awareness Day (30 November), the Petitions Committee’s latest report looks into the pre-payment meter scandal which saw thousands of people having the devices forcibly installed in their homes by energy companies after falling behind on bill payments.

Many of the victims were vulnerable, including disabled people, older people and families with infant children.

The Committee is urging the Welsh Government to improve advice services this winter by providing funding for an advertising campaign informing people where to go for advice and support if they are struggling to pay their bills.

A fit for purpose code of practice?

Since the pre-payment meter scandal, energy companies are required to follow a code of practice outlawing involuntary installations of pre-payment meters for the highest risk customers.

One of the Committee’s main concerns is that this code of practice doesn’t go far enough.

The World Health Organisation defines patients as elderly if over 65, yet the Code of Practice for energy companies will only class someone as vulnerable if they’re over 75 years of age.

These concerns were also applicable to young children, who are only classed as vulnerable under two years old, whereas many households will have pre-school children older than the cut off.

Jack Sargeant MS, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said, “Last winter, I was disgusted to hear about energy companies entering the homes of vulnerable people and forcibly installing pre-payment meters. Since that scandal, there have been efforts to improve things, but this hasn’t gone far enough.

“Despite a new, mandatory code of conduct, vulnerable people in Wales could still have a pre-payment meter forcibly installed in their home this winter just because they don’t meet the strict criteria.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that a more realistic understanding of vulnerability hasn’t been adopted by the energy companies. We’re urging the energy regulator Ofgem to monitor this code of practice and to change things if it isn’t working.”  

With approximately 200,000 households in Wales using pre-payment meters for their mains gas and electricity, the Committee’s report is also calling for a new social tariff for vulnerable people to provide more support for those in the greatest need.

Social tariffs are discounted energy bills available to vulnerable people enabling them to continue to heat their homes without paying full price.

Jack Sargeant MS, continued, “Although there is a limit to what the Welsh Government can do in this reserved matter, the Committee urges them to read this report and make representations to the UK Government and Ofgem on a range of issues.

“Of course, improving advice services in Wales and making sure people know where to turn to for help if they are struggling is something that the Welsh Government could - and should - be doing immediately.

“Having access to heat and light can be a matter of life and death. I would urge the Welsh and UK Governments as well as Ofgem to read this report and enact our recommendations as soon as possible – this could save lives.”