- A British Gas investigation into prepayment meters (PPM) fitted under court warrant, which was overseen by independent consultants Promontory Financial Services, revealed there were no systemic issues with prepayment meters fitted under warrant. However, it did find a limited number of cases where lessons need to be learned.
- Reflecting the importance and sensitivity of the activity the company has made the decision that any future fitting of PPMs under warrant will be brought in-house to ensure greater oversight.
- But Centrica Chief Executive, Chris O’Shea, says changes to prepayment meter processes don’t address the underlying problem of affordability and says a well-designed energy social tariff could help millions of consumers.
British Gas has today unveiled plans for a series of improvements to the way it deals with the fitting of prepayment meters under warrant, following a detailed investigation overseen by independent regulatory compliance consultancy, Promontory Financial Services.
Today’s report concludes that there are no systemic failings in the way British Gas handled the fitting of prepayment meters under warrant. But it did find evidence that in a small number of cases, things have gone wrong, or the company could have acted differently. As a result, some of our customers did not receive the highest levels of service that they rightly expect, and that British Gas aspires to deliver.
British Gas is taking immediate action to address the issues that the report has identified. This action includes:
- Immediately introducing the cheapest PPM tariffs of any supplier in the country, in line with the cost of energy for direct debit customers.
- Permanently ceasing all warrant activity with the third-party contractor and bringing this work in-house, giving British Gas more direct oversight of the process and ensuring agents benefit from training at British Gas’s award-winning academies.
- Continuing to support customers with the biggest support fund in the sector, £10 million, to directly support prepayment meter customers who are in debt by providing a free, no strings attached credit of up to £250. This fund has already helped over 50,000 PPM customers this winter.
- Commitment to Ofgem’s voluntary Code of Practice on prepayment installations under warrant. This code includes:
- Not carrying out involuntary installations for the highest risk customers, including over 85s.
- Re-assessing cases once a customer has repaid debts owed and changing from PPM to credit.
- Introducing the use of body cameras by employees carrying out this work when operating in the homes of customers.
Chris O’Shea, Centrica’s Group Chief Executive said:
“I was deeply concerned when I saw the way some of our prepayment customers were treated earlier this year. It’s not how I want us to do business and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to say how sorry I am and to apologise to anyone involved in cases where our actions fell short of the high standards we set ourselves.
"I’m reassured that the investigation found no systemic issues with the treatment of prepayment customers, but it did highlight areas where we can, and should, do better. We’re already implementing those changes and I hope the action we are taking to improve our approach shows our commitment to doing everything we can to support our vulnerable customers.
“But the increased cost of food, rising interest rates, higher rent and the impact of the energy crisis on consumer bills means that there is a substantial number of people who will continue to struggle with paying bills for the foreseeable future. The introduction of a social tariff for energy would be a significant step in the right direction. The funding of it will be a policy decision for Government but if we can get this right, and deal with the root cause of the affordability crisis, some of the difficult issues around fitting prepayment meters should no longer be necessary.”
- The report is available to download here
- The investigation sampled 321 cases (49 of which were associated with the Times report and the remainder of which were a random sample) where a prepayment meter was fitted under warrant. It found two customer cases where the investigation team considered that a PPM was not appropriate because of the personal circumstances of the customers. There were an additional two cases, identified by The Times, where, although the meter installation was appropriate in the circumstances, the behaviour of the agent fell far below that which we would expect.
- The investigation team also found 13 cases where the Arvato warrant officer proceeded with a PPM installation without sufficiently recording how previously known vulnerability considerations had been considered contrary to our policies and procedures. A further 13 cases were identified where there was insufficient data available for the investigation team to conclude whether the PPM installation had been carried out in line with our policies and procedures. In these cases, British Gas will seek to investigate further with the customers to determine whether new facts emerge that would point to a change in payment type.
- The use of body cameras, which is also part of the recent Ofgem Code of Practice is subject to customers agreement to protect privacy.
- Prepayment meter data:
- Total PPM installed in UK in 2022 – 600,000 (source: Citizens Advice)
- PPM installed 2022 by BG with customer consent – 70,462
- Average number of customer engagement attempts prior to warrant – 24.
- Number fitted by BG under warrant - 20,469 – Approximately 25% of PPM installations under warrant were made in properties which were vacant at the time of installation.
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