Wrongful prepayment meter installation: could you be due compensation?

Prepayment meter customers may be in line for compensation after a scandal involving British Gas. We explain when an energy firm can apply for a warrant to break into your home and install a prepayment meter

prepay electricity key sits in a prepayment electricity meter
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong)

Energy regulator Ofgem has set out new rules for forceful prepayment meter installation, which will be good news for some, but not all, households. 

An investigation earlier this year by The Times revealed British Gas sent debt collectors to break into vulnerable customers’ homes to force-fit pre-payment meters.

Citizens Advice has already called for a ban on energy suppliers "forcing" customers onto prepayment meters. Around 3.2 million people ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up, according to the charity. 

As a result, Ofgem has outlined new rules that mean some households will be exempt from forceful prepayment meter installation, but it won’t be the case for all. 

There are currently around 4.5 million households on prepayment meters for their energy bills, with numbers on the rise. 

Find out what Ofgem’s new rules are and how it affects you. Plus, whether you might be entitled to compensation if you’ve previously had a prepayment meter installed in your homes.

When can an energy firm apply for a warrant to break into my home and install a prepayment meter?

Here’s what the new Ofgem guidelines say about forced prepayment installation:

  • Anyone aged 85 or above, those with a terminal illness or health conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and sickle cell disease, are exempt from prepayment installation. Those who rely on powered medical equipment are also exempt. 
  • Any household forced onto a prepayment meter will get £30 credit so they transition with a supply of gas and electricity available. 
  • Energy suppliers must make an attempt to contact customers at least 10 times and carry out a “site welfare visit” before installing a prepayment meter. 
  • Those fitting the prepayment meter now have to wear body cameras or audio equipment to ensure rules are followed.

Existing rules say energy firms must apply to a court for a warrant if they need to break into a customer's home and install a prepayment meter because arrears have built up.

But energy suppliers are supposed to have exhausted all other options before doing so. This includes:

  • a review of your payments and debt repayments
  • payment breaks or reductions 
  • more time to pay
  • access to hardship funds

Energy suppliers are also not supposed to use a warrant application as a solution for vulnerable customers, such as elderly people, families with young children, pregnant women and those who are chronically sick.

Nor can they use warrants on people who would find the experience very traumatic.

Can I get compensation for a previous forced installation?

Energy firms have been told to compensate customers who wrongly had prepayment meters installed in their homes.

The suppliers must look back on where prepayment meters were wrongfully installed and they must put the customer back on their previous tariff, and offer compensation, according to Ofgem.

It's not clear yet how much compensation people could potentially get.

Katie Binns

Katie is staff writer at The Money Edit. She was the former staff writer at The Times and The Sunday Times. Her experience includes writing about personal finance, culture, travel and interviews celebrities.  Her investigative work on financial abuse resulted in a number of mortgage prisoners being set free - and a nomination for the Best Personal Finance Story of the Year in the Headlinemoney awards 2021.