The British energy regulator has launched an investigation into British Gas after a London Times undercover reporter revealed its prepayment meter-installation methods.
Centrica is the parent company of British Gas and is also the parent company of Bord Gáis Ireland.
Centrica has announced it will cease applying for court warrants to enter customers’ homes and fit prepayment meters, following newspaper reports that they had been forced on “vulnerable” customers.
Legal right to enter homes
Court warrants can be obtained by energy companies giving them legal rights to enter homes and fit prepayment meters if customers have not paid their bills.
Customers must then top up to continue receiving gas supplies and, if they fail to do so, they risk their gas being cut off.
Regulator Ofgem is investigating after the London Times reported that British Gas sends debt collectors to “break into” people’s homes and “force-fit” pay-as-you-go meters – even when customers are known to have “extreme vulnerabilities”.
The regulator said that the newspaper allegations were “extremely serious” and added it would not hold back from using its enforcement powers.
An undercover reporter for the newspaper worked for the debt-collecting contractor Arvato Financial Solutions and accompanied agents who used court warrants to enter customers’ homes to force-fit the meters.
One customer was a single father with three young children, while another was a mother with a four-week-old baby.
Families forced to use pay-as-you-go meters have included a woman with “severe mental health bipolar” and a mother whose daughter is disabled and using a hoist.
If families cannot afford to top up the meters, their power supply is cut off, the London Times reports.
Ofgem has also asked for a preliminary internal report by 13 February and details of the bonus system for agents.
Owner of British Gas, Centrica, announced last night that it was suspending “all warrant activity”.
The parent company will also launch an investigation into the claims.
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of the regulator Ofgem, said that he would not hesitate to take “the strongest action in our powers”, adding: “We’ve ordered immediate action to protect British Gas’s customers.”
Ofgem has also asked for a preliminary internal report by February 13 and details of the bonus system for agents.
Grant Shapps, Britain's business and energy secretary, wrote to energy companies last month warning them to stop force-fitting meters.
However, the undercover reporter found that British Gas had continued to do so, the London Times reports.
More customers have fallen into debt as energy prices soar. Applications for energy warrants have risen – from 275,000 in 2019 to 345,000 in the 11 months to December.