Grant Shapps has called on energy bosses to outline what remedial action they are taking to deal with customers who have wrongly installed sub-meters in their homes, warning that the regulator risked having suppliers pull the wool over its eyes.
Energy regulator Ofgem last week ordered suppliers to stop the practice of forcing meters to be installed, following a report in the Times newspaper.
An undercover investigation by the newspaper revealed that British Gas, a third party company, Arvato Financial Solutions, was installing meters in the homes of vulnerable customers.
The business secretary has called on energy suppliers to report to his department by Tuesday, setting out their plans to support affected customers through measures such as compensation.
Shapps also called on Ofgem to put in place a new reporting system to allow customers to record their experiences dealing with energy companies and urged the regulator to strengthen its audit structures.
Ofgem awarded British Gas the top spot in two reviews carried out in the second half of last year, which assessed how suppliers deal with customers who are considered vulnerable or who are struggling to pay their energy bills
“I am appalled that vulnerable customers struggling with their energy bills have been raided and fitted with pre-paid meters when there is a clear duty on suppliers to support them,” the business secretary said. “They need to refocus their efforts on their consumers, the British public, who are on the receiving end of this disgusting behaviour.
“I am also concerned that the regulator is taking too lightly what the energy companies are telling them for granted. They also need to listen to customers to make sure that this kind of treatment of vulnerable consumers does not happen again.”
Consumer associations have warned in recent months of an increasing number of suppliers imposing expensive subscription meters on customers who fall into arrears. Consumer organizations such as Citizens Advice have called for the practice to be banned until new customer protections are introduced.
Ofgem has launched what it has called a major market review of pay-as-you-go meter installations that will examine potential license breaches that are driving the growth.
Earlier this week, Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s chief executive, said he had asked suppliers to review their use of court orders. “Suppliers must satisfy us that processes for customers moving to PPM comply with all Ofgem rules and, until this is done, we have asked them to pause forced installations,” he said.
Chris O’Shea, chief executive of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, said the company would end the practice and apologized for what he described as “deeply disturbing” allegations.
Additional reporting by Nathalie Thomas.