Energy firms have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics to investigate customers who reduce their energy usage




Energy firms have doubled down on an unpopular policy that is deemed to criminalise customers that try to save money on their bills by reducing their energy usage.

Energy UK, the representative body for the majority of energy companies, claimed that these firms were justified in investigating customers who tried to use less electricity or gas during the winter months. 

This development follows revelations that EDF dispatched members of its revenue protection team to visit a vulnerable woman who had curtailed her energy usage due to escalating bills. Victoria Whiteman, a 25-year-old resident of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, had managed to reduce her monthly gas and electricity costs from approximately £115 to about £65 by practicing energy-saving measures such as turning off lights, TV, and minimizing heating.

Whiteman conveyed a sense of “humiliation” when EDF technicians arrived at her residence to ascertain whether she was “tampering” with her energy meter. These technicians queried her without providing proper identification and even questioned a neighbor about personal matters to verify her responses. Although EDF stated that the investigation was initiated due to the continuous decline in Whiteman’s energy usage, they confirmed that no tampering had occurred.

In the wake of this story, numerous other energy consumers came forward with accounts of comparable experiences. Around seven energy companies were cited for questioning low energy usage even when customers submitted meter pictures as evidence. Some customers claimed that technicians were dispatched to their homes to inspect meters.

A spokesperson from Energy UK emphasized that suppliers had a responsibility to investigate suspicions of energy theft, highlighting that a significant reduction in energy consumption could be indicative of such wrongdoing. Stressing the illegality and potential dangers of meter tampering, the spokesperson maintained that the costs of energy theft are ultimately borne by other customers, justifying the companies’ efforts to prevent it.

Labour MP Andy McDonald, a member of the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, expressed concern over these invasive investigation practices and pledged to raise the issue in Parliament. He called for immediate reassurances that these practices would be halted.

Ofgem, the regulatory authority for the energy industry, indicated its intolerance for aggressive debt collection or unethical conduct by energy firms or their third-party agents. Although Ofgem refrained from commenting on individual cases, it underscored its commitment to consumer protection and fair treatment.

Amid this backdrop, a disabled woman from Cornwall reported an unexpected visit by an engineer from her energy supplier, who initially cited an “intermittent supply” as the reason. After showing her meter, the engineer acknowledged no issues but implied suspicions of tampering. Another customer, Andrew Walpole from London, recounted a similar encounter with E Gas and Electricity, where engineers entered his property, accusing him of meter tampering without proper explanation or identification.

These developments align with a broader investigation revealing that energy firms are securing thousands of warrants each month to install prepayment meters in vulnerable households. 

Prepayment meters involve higher tariffs and require upfront payments, leaving families in the dark and cold when funds are depleted. Labour is advocating government intervention, and Ofgem emphasises its commitment to safeguarding consumers, enforcing fair treatment, and supporting those facing payment difficulties.

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