New research published by Citizens Advice has found that 2022 saw 3.2 million people cut off from their energy supply due to being unable to top up their prepayment meter as the cost-of-living crisis continues to devaste UK households.
The charity found that 19% of prepayment meter customers that were cut off in the last year spent a minimum of 24 hours without gas or electricity.
Prepayment meters – which need to be topped up for use – can be automatically implemented by an energy supplier if a household is unable to maintain payments on its energy bills; this happened to 600,000 people last year, said the organisation.
Overall, Citizens Advice reported that over two million people are disconnected from their energy supply at least once a month.
The study also found a worrying trend which saw more people unable to top up their prepayment meter than in the last decade combined, breaking even the charity’s prediction.
This trend is especially worrying for disabled people or those with long-term illnesses.
Although Ofgem has regulations to protect the vulnerable from being forced onto a prepayment meter, Citizens Advice has raised concerns over their effectiveness. For example, in the month after Ofgem’s intervention the charity revealed that more than 470,000 households on prepayment meters with vulnerable occupants were cut off from their energy supply at least once.
Last year saw a 229% rise in the number of people seeking support to top up their prepayment meter, including those that had medication which needs to be refrigerated.
To protect vulnerable households from losing their energy supply Citizens Advice has called for a total ban on forced prepayment meter installations until new protective measures can be introduced.
Without action, the organisation warned that 160,000 more people could be forced onto a prepayment meter before winter’s end.
“All too often the people finding it hardest to pay their bills are being forced onto a prepayment meter they can’t afford to top up. This puts them at real risk of being left in cold, damp and dark homes,” said chief executive of Citizens Advice, Dame Clare Moriarty.
“The staggering rise in the cost of living means many simply cannot afford to heat and power their homes to safe levels.
“New protections are needed to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity. Until then, there must be a total ban on energy companies forcing those already at breaking point onto prepayment meters. If Ofgem doesn’t act, the government must intervene.”
Sky-rocketing energy prices continue to strain UK households. A number of schemes have been put in place by the UK Government to try and ease the financial burden of domestic energy such as the Energy Price Guarantee, which caps the unit price of energy at 34.0p/kWh for electricity and 10.3p/kWh for gas, inclusive of VAT, for those on a standard variable tariff. However, this is forecast to end in April 2023.
Late last year the government released details of new schemes designed to provide additional support for households in Britain and Northern Ireland. This includes the Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding, which offers consumers without a direct relationship with an energy supplier £400 towards their energy bill; and the Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Fuel Payments for households heating their homes using alternative fuels.