More Than 94,000 Prepayment Meters Forcibly Installed in UK Homes Last Year

More Than 94,000 Prepayment Meters Forcibly Installed in UK Homes Last Year
Undated photo of a gas hob next to a British Gas bill. (Owen Humphreys/PA Media)
Alexander Zhang

Energy suppliers forcibly installed more than 94,000 prepayment meters in UK homes last year without customer consent, the government has revealed.

As part of the government’s clampdown on “mistreatment of vulnerable customers,” Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday named the suppliers that are the “most overzealous” in the use of these meters.

According to the government, the highest number of prepayment meters force-fitted last year were from British Gas, Scottish Power, and OVO Energy, making up 70 percent of all forced installations with a total of 66,187 devices fitted under warrant.

Of these, Scottish Power tops the list as the “worst offender” when taking into account their customer base, force fitting over 24,300 in their customers’ homes in 2022.

Shapps said the figures “give a clear and horrifying picture of just how widespread the forced installation of prepayment meters had become.”

He said, “Prepayment meters are right for some people, so I do not want to ban them outright, but I do have concerns that companies have not been treating their customers fairly, over an already difficult winter during which the government has tried to help families by paying around half the energy bill of the average household.”

The Cabinet minister said he was “pleased that suppliers have made their actions public and agreed to put a stop to forcing prepayment on to vulnerable customers for good.”

But he said “this cannot happen again” and repeated his call for any mistreatment of customers to be rectified.

RSecretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London, on March 15, 2023. (Jordan Pettitt/PA Media)
RSecretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London, on March 15, 2023. (Jordan Pettitt/PA Media)


Hundreds of thousands of customers have been switched over to more costly prepayment meters, often unwillingly and without the offer of support, after failing to keep up with rising energy payments.

Some have found their smart meters switched to prepayment mode remotely while others have been confronted at their door by teams sent by energy companies—armed with magistrates’ court warrants—to physically make the change.

According to a report by The Times of London on Feb. 1, some British Gas customers—including some who were disabled or mentally ill—had pay-as-you-go meters forcibly installed in their homes.

Following the report, Shapps described the forced prepay installations as “outrageous” and energy minister Graham Stuart asked the energy giant to urgently outline “redress” for “mistreated customers.”

Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem subsequently ordered all energy providers to suspend prepayment meter installations until a new code of practice is agreed by energy companies.

Ofgem is reviewing the use of prepayment meters and companies have been instructed to investigate and offer redress such as compensation to customers where the meters were wrongly installed and regulations not followed.

Shapps said he will be watching the review closely “so customers get the support they need—and those vulnerable consumers who have wrongly suffered forced installations get the justice they deserve in the form of redress.”

Amanda Solloway, minister for energy, consumers, and affordability, said: “We will not stand for the mistreatment of vulnerable customers who have been forced on to prepayment meters. I welcome the move from Ofgem to make it easier for customers to report cases but this can’t be a one off, and suppliers must now offer redress to those they have wronged.”

Unpaid Debts

Following the row, Lord Justice Edis issued directions for magistrates’ courts to stop all warrants that allow companies to force-fit the meters.

Prior to that, suppliers were allowed to apply to courts for a warrant to enter the home of a customer who has not been paying their bills and has not engaged with their supplier.

Ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley said on Feb. 22 that “the rules and regulations are clear” that force-fitting prepayment meters “should only be done as a last resort and only where it is safe and practicable to do so.”

A British Gas spokesman said at the time: “We only install prepayment meters under warrant as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted. This takes many months where there are multiple efforts to engage with a customer and the majority of the time, we can find a solution such as access to our support funds or payment plans—we’ve helped over 650,000 customers with their energy bills in the past year.”

The industry body Energy UK pointed to the reason why energy providers have been using prepayment meters.

If users who consistently fail to pay are not moved to prepayment meters, the unpaid debts would result in higher energy bills for other customers.

Energy UK was quoted by the BBC as saying, “The industry has already been talking to Ofgem and the government about how best we can support the most vulnerable customers going forward, including the role a social tariff could potentially play, which needs to be part of the discussion around the use of prepayment meters.”

Lily Zhou and PA Media contributed to this report.