9th January 2024

Money Advice Scotland is deeply concerned about Ofgem's recent approval for energy companies, including EDF, Octopus, and Scottish Power, to resume force-fitting prepayment meters in people's homes. As an organisation dedicated to supporting those facing financial challenges, we view this decision as a potential threat to vulnerable households, particularly during the winter months.

We believe that the authorisation for energy firms to enforce prepayment meters, especially during a time where access to heating is paramount, raises some serious concerns. The potential consequences of leaving individuals without heating, especially those who are vulnerable, are severe and unacceptable. We echo the sentiments expressed by many who fear the impact of this decision on people's lives and wellbeing.

While we recognise the need to address energy debt, we believe that the method of force-fitting prepayment meters through the courts is draconian and should be reconsidered. We also argue that the persistent challenges in the assessment of vulnerabilities by energy firms which have been noted by the money and debt advice sector highlight cause for concern. 

Money Advice Scotland acknowledge that energy debt is a complex issue, exacerbated by rising costs and a challenging economic environment. However, the solution should prioritise empathy and collaboration rather than resorting to severe measures that could leave vulnerable individuals in distress.

We strongly urge the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero to engage in a constructive dialogue with energy providers, Ofgem and charities supporting people experiencing money and debt issues. Together, we can explore alternative approaches to enable individuals experiencing debt to make payments according to their ability, considering the financial constraints faced by many people.

Furthermore, we call for a change in the communication strategies used by energy providers when interacting with customers who are experiencing debt. It is essential to recognise that for many individuals, there is no spare money, and assumptions that everyone in debt is intentionally not paying are inaccurate, unhelpful, and counterproductive. Rebuilding trust between energy providers and their customers is paramount, and this requires a more compassionate and understanding approach. We will be launching our language guide ‘Dignity First: A Guide for Compassionate Communication in Money and Debt’ this year which we encourage the energy companies to adopt to improve their communication with their customers. 

While recognising the need for suppliers to address energy debt, the stringent rules imposed by Ofgem, such as making substantial attempts to contact a customer before installing a prepayment meter and refraining from involuntary installations for the highest-risk customers, are steps in the right direction. However, we stress the ongoing importance of assessing the suitability of prepayment meters to ensure that rules are not being broken – as we know they have been in the past.

In conclusion, Money Advice Scotland stands firm in its commitment to protecting individuals experiencing money and debt concerns. We emphasise our disappointment with the change in rules allowing the reintroduction of force-fitting prepayment meters and call for a reconsideration of these measures. Collaboration, empathy, and a focus on alternative solutions are essential to ensuring the wellbeing of people during these challenging times.

If you need help with money and debt worries and would like to access free, independent, and non-judgemental support, please contact one of the following regulated money advice services.

Local money advice services

For support from money advisers in your area, please contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or council advice shop/team. Not all Citizens Advice Bureau or local authorities deliver debt advice, so you may be referred to another local service such as Christians Against Poverty (CAP), or a national money advice service such as Advice Direct Scotland and StepChange.

Advice Direct Scotland

Advice Direct Scotland are a free, national service offering various information and advice on a range of topics including money and debt. To access money and debt advice from Advice Direct Scotland, contact their freephone helpline on 0808 196 2316, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Alternatively, contact them by email via [email protected], chat online via their website or arrange a callback for a debt appointment.

StepChange

StepChange is a national debt charity providing free debt advice and access to formal debt solutions. You can visit their website to find out more about them, or give them a call on 0800 138 1111, weekdays from 8am to 8pm and Saturday from 8am to 4pm. When contacting them, please tell them you are based in Scotland so they can connect you to their Scottish team as debt solution options in Scotland are different from the rest of the UK.