Citizens Advice revealed that 3.2 million Brits couldn’t afford to top up their prepayment meters last year. That’s one individual every 10 seconds who lost power due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Citizens Advice reports over two million monthly disconnections. More over one in five (19%) prepayment meter customers turned off in the previous year went without gas or electricity for at least 24 hours, leaving them unable to heat or cook.
Nearly one in five (18%) homes that ran out of credit last year spent two days or more without energy.
Citizens Advice saw more prepayment metre users who couldn’t top up in 2022 than in the previous 10 years. That gloomy record exceeded the charity’s last-year estimates for helping people with the issue.
Ofgem prohibits forcing disabled and long-term ill individuals onto prepayment meters.
Despite this, Citizens Advice warned Ofgem and the government that providers were putting these groups onto prepayment meters. Ofgem warned providers in October that they were not identifying vulnerable consumers before installing prepayment meters.
Rona is disabled and lives with her daughter who has special educational needs. Her supplier switched her smart meter to prepayment mode after she fell into debt, leaving her without gas and electricity.
Rona said: “One evening just before Christmas my power went off. I assumed it was a power cut. I had no way to make any calls, so my daughter and I were left in the dark all night with no heating, lights or means of making any food. I was really anxious.
“I went to my local Citizens Advice when the power didn’t come back on the next morning. They spoke to my supplier and found out they’d switched my smart meter to prepayment mode.
“I explained that I was on the priority services register. I also said I’m in a wheelchair and unable to access my meter, but none of it made a difference. I’m now reliant on my sister or her husband to go to the post office to help me top up my meter.
“Over Christmas I went without energy because the credit ran out, and the post office was closed, so my daughter and I sat there cold, in the dark. How can I live like this?”
Citizens Advice reports that more than a third of prepayment meter homes with a disabled person or long-term health condition were cut off at least once in the month after Ofgem’s involvement. In total, 470,000 low-income homes were left without power.
Citizens Advice now proposes to suspend forced prepayment meter installations until new measures are in place to prevent homes from being completely cut off from gas and electricity.
Last year, the organisation helped 229% more people who couldn’t top up their prepayment meter.
A single parent with a young child was kept in the cold and dark for 48 hours when her provider switched her to a meter she couldn’t top up.
Citizens Advice estimates that 600,000 individuals were put onto prepayment meters in 2022 because they couldn’t afford their energy costs, based on Ofgem data.
The charity warns that if nothing is done, 160,000 additional individuals might be switched to prepayment meters by next winter.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “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.
“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.”