Energy boss’s 7 word defence as prepayment meters blasted

Martin Lewis gives voucher advice to those on prepayment meters

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A major energy company boss has been forced to fend off criticism of prepayment meters despite “dire” figures suggesting they do not help the most vulnerable people in society. Bill Bullen, the CEO of Utilita, has argued these meters stop customers from falling into debt, allowing them to dodge the impacts of self rationing. In an interview he said “we’re not a bunch of evil ogres” when addressing concerns about the methods used to fit the devices in the homes of those who are struggling to pay up.

Prepayment meters are typically a more expensive payment option and need to be topped up with credit on a pay-as-you-go basis for the power to flow.

A recent investigation revealed that only 72 out of 500,000 court warrants allowing energy companies to forcibly install these meters had been refused since July 2021. This method is used when customers fall behind with their bills.

Warm This Winter campaigners claim a “third of pre-payment meter customers are living in cold damp homes.” But Mr Bullen told i news that around 750,000 Utilita customers use prepayment meters, arguing that they might not be as big of an issue as it has been made out.

While campaigners claim the meters can force some of the poorest households to self-disconnect, the energy boss said that a maximum of around six percent of Utilita’s customers self-disconnect at any one time.

However, he noted that this has gone up to around eight percent amid the recent price hikes – which is around 60,000 households. But when the Government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) came into effect in October, he said the number of self-disconnections was slashed in half.

Mr Bullen said: “Self-disconnection is happening all the time, it is happening more frequently [at the moment]. [With the EBSS] what’s happening is the Government is paying the benefit right to the point of need.”

But despite the Government discount, homes are still falling behind on their bills and are seeing energy firms install prepayment meters in their properties as a result.

Mr Bullen said: “We’re above water, but not by much. Nobody in the energy business wants to enforce hardship on people. We’re not a bunch of evil ogres.”

Figures from the Citizens Advice charity previously revealed that 3.2million people were left in cold and dark homes last year after running out of credit needed to top up their meters.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, told “The true depths of the pre-payment meters crisis have been revealed by the Citizens Advice research. But the truth is that the figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

The situation is so dire that research from the Warm This Winter campaign found that a third of pre-payment meter customers are living in cold damp homes.

“Living in these Victorian conditions causes huge health complications, especially for those with the elderly, disabled and those with health conditions or infants in the household.

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Pre-payment meters have been forced on many of these households either by energy firms using court warrants to install the meters or by switching smart meters to pre-payment mode.

“There is now a growing realisation among MPs that this is untenable and energy firms’ assurances of helping vulnerable people do not stack up. We need the Government to act to ban forced transfers to pre-payment meters.

“A failure to do so will plunge more people deeper into fuel poverty and lead to increasing pressures on the NHS.”

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