Thousands of Prepaid Customers Left Without Power for Weeks
By Anne Lewis-Schneider
When you have a pre-paid meter and fail to top up your account you may wait for 3 months before the energy companies will investigate the matter. This is in spite of a pledge by energy companies not to disconnect dual fuels for customers who are unable to pay their electricity and gas bills, and may be vulnerable to the icy conditions that winter brings. In effect the energy companies are letting customers self-disconnect when in actuality it could be because of a shortage of funds and an inability to buy prepaid top-ups for their meters. This is the claim that has been made by the Labour Party.
Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint has said that some energy companies have a waiting period of 90 days before they will investigate a lack of energy usage, during which time someone who is vulnerable could be without heating and light because of a lack of finances. Of the Big Six Energy Companies, npower and EDF wait 90 days and both have said that they have experienced accounts that have not been recharged for more than a month and quoted figures for last year with npower claiming more than 23,000 accounts and EDF a staggering 222,000 without recharging electricity and a further 143,000 adding no gas over the period of more than a month. The figures for EDF do however include vacant properties according to the Labour Party.
British Gas and SSE contact customers after a waiting period of 28 days, with Scottish Power and E.On having a 35 day waiting period. Caroline Flint has said that David Cameron has failed to stand up to the energy companies and that consequently thousands could be sitting in the cold and dark because they cannot afford the price of energy under the cost of living crisis. She added that it was clear that the energy market does not work for the average family, and once again reiterated the need to abolish Ofgem and replace them with the pledged price freeze and a new regulator should Labour win the next election in the UK. She said that the price freeze would benefit some 27 million households in Britain.
Energy UK has said that no-one should feel that they cannot turn on heating or cook a hot meal. They have said that there is an agreement that stands with energy companies that they will not let a vulnerable customer be disconnected, and has suggested that if there are any people who are struggling to meet their bills or top up their meters should not hesitate to contact their energy company who will in turn do all that they can to help. There is also the option of calling the free Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.
Npower and EDF justify their waiting period by saying that not all prepaid meters belong to vulnerable clients and that some could be holiday homes closed for the winter season. Another reason given is that a property could be going through ownership changes.
Even with the Autumn Statement and roll back on some levies and taxes which make bills £50 less per year, there are still many who are seriously struggling to keep their heads above water, and this debate is far from over, in fact it will probably be the ideal fuel for the upcoming election fight.
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