Ofgem to ban forced pre-pay meters - but only for over 85s

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  • pochase
    pochase Forumite Posts: 3,449
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    Let's look at what we know about the new rules.

    10 times trying to contact a customer is very vague. What does count as trying to contact them and what should be the time between the tries to contact them, an hour, a day, a week? On the other hand from what is reported this seems to be not far from what was done anyway, maybe just not well documented.

    The "welfare visit" is as vague as contacting the customer. What does count as a visit? Just standing in front of the door with nobody around, or only meeting with the customer and really establishing if the customer is vulnerable? As always pro and contra here. Just announcing a date when somebody will visit and bad luck, if nobody is at home, sounds bad, on the other side if you need to get into the property a customer just plays dead and nothing can be done sounds also wrong as described by @mobtr in his post.

    And that seems to be often the case. Customers just don't react to suppliers contacting them and hope the problem will just go away.

    The best of the new rules at the moment is that they need to wear cameras, which will prove what really happens during a visit.

    The press does not really help with wordings like "break in". If you have a warrant for entry you are entering with force, but lawfully, a break-in is a crime.

    I don't know where Matt gets the 2-year time frame from, but the minimum as far as  I can find is 28 days between a customer being told the supplier will go for a meter and starting the process, while the reality seems to be more like months in the worst case. At this time the debt will be already some months old, no supplier does start the process if you miss a single payment. Applying for a warrant to enter is also not a process that will be done in a few days. So in total, it will be a process of at minimum several months to very likely the years Matt mentioned.

    If somebody needs additional help with energy costs for example due to illness or disability that needs to come from sufficient benefits, the mentioned being unable to budget is not a reason for me. Saying it harshly, the prepaid meter will teach somebody who is unable to budget how to do it. 

    Part of the help program most suppliers have is that you need to be able to pay for your ongoing usage. There is no help for people who are unable to pay for what they use in the first place, only getting help with an existing debt. Again, enabling people who want to pay, is the job of the benefits system.

    Not everybody who is in debt is poor or on benefits. There are those who just spend their money on other things, and not paying energy bills takes a long time before there are consequences. 

    Energy debt is not like all other debts mentioned, if I don't pay off my credit card, they will cancel it, but somebody who does not pay for his energy should be allowed to keep using energy unlimited and increase their debt? 

    I really fail to see what the real problem with a prepaid meter is if somebody is going to pay for the energy used by them. Currently, we are talking about a slightly higher standing charge (but often lower unit rates for electricity), and even that is supposedly going to end soon and the cost will be identical. The main difference will be that you need to be able to afford what you are using and are unable to increase your debt.

    Are the above-mentioned £3 per week really the issue here, or is it that some people are unable or unwilling to pay for the energy they use and with a prepaid meter no longer are able to use unlimited amounts of energy without paying for it? 

    Yes if help is required it should be given where justified, but it should be done through the benefits system and not by increasing the cost for all paying customers. Doing it through higher energy costs will mean that those who are hardly able to cope will have to pay more, while taxation means it is at least the impact is limited to those who have a bit more money.

  • MattMattMattUK
    MattMattMattUK Forumite Posts: 7,634
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    Chrysalis said:
    From what I can find online and there is no solid data, it does seem that this change would effect no more than a few hundred people a year, possibly fewer. Some older people may have issues paying their bills, but they also get pensions, pension credit if on low income, winter fuel payments and other payments on top depending on circumstances, they also do not generally fall into the groups who refuse to engage with the energy suppliers. 

    That is also they key issue that keeps being ignored when the media spin this story about "evil energy suppliers", they do not just turn up, smash someone's door in and fit a prepayment meter for fun, or because someone did not pay for one month, or even six, in cases where warrants have been obtained the customer has generally been non-paying and refusing to even engage with the energy supplier for nearly two years. Whilst people may not like these installations, or automatic switchovers of smart meters, the change overs are hardly unfair. 
    Do you have a source for it taking nearly 2 years of non engagement to get forced pre pay meter installation?
    When it was being discussed on Radio 4 they were talking about the failure to engage and they said that the process normally takes around two years, quicker cases eighteen months. Even the fast track warrant applications were talked about taking 6+ months from the part the suppliers started that process and that was on top many months of missed payments and attempting to contact non-paying customers. Unfortunately it is not something I am willing to personally test to get a definitive answer. 
  • MattMattMattUK
    MattMattMattUK Forumite Posts: 7,634
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    Chrysalis said:
    I think a solution that involves trusting the suppliers to handle it is wrong, I think it should be handled by an independent body, so something like this.

    1 - Provider tries to contact customer about the unpaid bills by phone, letter and email at least 10 times via each method with it all logged.
    2 - If this fails they then contact the independent body who themselves is effectively an adjudicator, they do the welfare visit, this visit will include education on energy bill management, energy usage, advice, affordability assessment, the £30 credit is not provided without this happening.  There should be a check if the person is vulnerable, has a social worker, on daily needs PIP, has a number of health conditions (not just one's affected by cold weather but also mental health conditions).
    3 - A decision is then made, which might involve the prepayment meter being fitted, or it might involve in a decision to keep the credit meter.
    4 - If either the customer or the supplier dont go along with the decision it then goes to court for a court decision.
    The process should be made more defined and streamlined, the cost of non-payers ultimately increases everyone else's bills.

    1. Your process would he hugely laborious and expensive, contact them ten times by three different methods is excessive.
    2. An independent body is adding further cost and likely delays to an already slow and expensive process, employing people to visit all non-payers even more so, we would end up needing a small army to do so. 
    3. If the customer refuses to pay then ultimately the only choice is a pre-payment meter, anything else allows them to continue to refuse to pay.
    4. Why make point 1 more laborious and point 2 exist at all if the fallback will always be point 4, it makes far more sense to skip those and go straight to 4.
    Chrysalis said:
    This in itself is not wildly different to how other consumer debt is handled.  where by e.g. credit card companies do an affordability assessment with their customer, as well as court enforcement officers doing the same thing.
    The difference is a credit card company will be able to stop the customer accumulating more debt, which is purpose of a pre-payment meter, if the energy supplier is effectively banned from stopping the customer running up additional debt then the whole process become incredibly one sided.
  • SAC2334
    SAC2334 Forumite Posts: 661
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    edited 19 April at 11:00AM
    I worked a few times in going along on prepay force fits .Over 85s or even over 70 s  are probably the least age group to be involved in force fits of prepays . They are much more likely to manage their outgoings .  I d say its the under 35 s who we had the most trouble with and are easily the biggest debtors 

     The suppliers would allow them to get as high as up to £2000 debt before they started getting serious in retrieving money off the debt . Even when a prepay was fitted the max repay per week was £14 even on £2000 and many used to decamp to another rental address with credit meters of course so they could start again incurring  more debt which they don t end up ever repaying 

    Prepayment meters have never been a good idea IMO and they are not used much in other countries at all. If you don t pay, the service is ended ( as the Americans call it ) .The French just throttle back how many kwhs they can use in the winter months and will simply disconnect in other months .

    We have been force fitting prepays for many years now and suddenly some journalist  from the Sunday Times gets a story following a BG man around who played up to the cameras boasting a bit

    They don t turn up and "break in " as the Times suggested.A locksmith would either pick or drill the locks , replace with new ones and post information on the door where to retrieve the new keys. And this is a last chance scenario after months of trying to get in with permission
  • MattMattMattUK
    MattMattMattUK Forumite Posts: 7,634
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    SAC2334 said:
    Prepayment meters have never been a good idea IMO and they are not used much in other countries at all. If you don t pay, the service is ended ( as the Americans call it ) .The French just throttle back how many kwhs they can use in the winter months and will simply disconnect in other months .
    Ultimately I think we will end up with a system where everyone is effectively on a smart pre-payment meter, one will be required to keep one's account in credit or the power will cut off. We will end up there because as with many things, when a minority cannot be trusted to behave then the rest of us loose out. 
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