Ofgem's 2018 annual consumer report has revealed an increase in the number of forcibly installed prepayment meters.
Watchdog organisations concerned about the sizeable increase are now calling for energy firms to do more to help vulnerable customers.
Ofgem's figures showed that the overall number of prepayment meters being forcibly installed rose from 81,000 to 84,000 between 2016 and 2017. This broke down as an increase of 1,237 more gas prepayment meters and 2,489 more electricity prepayment meters in the 12-month period.
By law energy companies can obtain a court warrant to enter a property and install a prepayment meter. However, this is a last resort measure. In most cases, struggling customers are first put onto repayment plans and given a chance to pay off debt before further action is taken.
British Gas, Ovo Energy and Utility Warehouse were found to be the worst offenders. The number of forced prepayment installations by these companies far exceeded the industry average.
One of the nation's biggest providers, British Gas saw a huge 26% increase in the number of forcibly installed prepayment meters between 2016 and 2017.
A spokesperson for the energy provider said that prepayment meters were "a way of keeping a customer's energy supply running when they are in debt and have not contacted us about their bills", and said it offers "help and advice" to customers struggling to keep up with payments.
While Ovo said the company has recently changed its debt recovery policies and since August last year has forcibly installed less than 10 prepayment meters.
Utility Warehouse said they too had seen a sharp decline in the number of prepayment meters installed under warrant.
Last year, Ofgem capped the amount suppliers could charge customers for the installation of prepaid meters to £150 and banned them entirely for the most vulnerable energy users. Consequently, it has said it expects to see a significant decrease in the installation of these meters in next year's figures.
However, in light of Ofgem's report many are calling for further action to help support vulnerable energy users.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy has said the rise is worrying and calls for energy companies to take action to prevent so many customers failing into energy debt:
"It's troubling to see the numbers of forced prepayment meter installations creeping up. Energy suppliers have a responsibility to support vulnerable customers, and should only install prepayment meters under warrant as a last resort. Clearly, many suppliers could do more to get customers in debt onto repayment plans and signpost them towards support."
The Ofgem report did bring some good news. Figures showed that the number of homes being disconnected due to debt problems reached an all time low of just 17.
However, Rob Salter-Church, interim Executive Director of Consumers and Markets at Ofgem, said energy companies need to do more to help vulnerable customers otherwise they'll have to intervene:
"Protecting vulnerable customers is a non-negotiable for suppliers. We expect all suppliers to reach out to these customers and respond to their needs, not exacerbate their difficulties. If they fail, we will take tough action."
Ofgem has already implemented a number of measures to help the most vulnerable energy customers. Earlier this year the energy watchdog extended its safeguard tariff, in order to protect an additional one million homes, with prepayment meters, from paying over the odds for energy.
They also introduced a price cap to restrict the amount companies can charge users on standard variable tariffs.
Anyone concerned about their own situation should contact their supplier. Most firms offer affordable payment plans that can be implemented to make the repayment of any outstanding bills more manageable.
Some customers may even qualify for extra help in the form of grants and benefits from the government or charities.
If customers don't feel that their supplier is doing enough to help their situation then they can also contact Citizens Advice for impartial advice.
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