A study reveals 2.25 million British households being at risk of sliding unnoticed into energy poverty or even death because they are stuck on outdated energy meters.
Those still left with an old-style ‘PAYG’ (pay as you go) meter, rather than a smart-enabled one - could go undetected by their supplier if they can’t afford to pay.
As a result, vulnerable residents such as the elderly, ill or disabled may not make it through the winter months.
Smart-PAYG meters enable a two-way, real-time communication between the household and the supplier - alerting them if the customer hasn’t topped up.
Legacy households - without access to the features and benefits of smart PAYG - have no digital connectivity as these meters require users to leave the house to top-up.
In contrast, benefits of smart PAYG include topping up without leaving home via an app, having additional energy intel, the ability to see personal usage insights and request financial assistance.
In response, a white paper calling for five major interventions from the government has been submitted by CEO of Utilita Energy, Bill Bullen, to BEIS (The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and Ofgem.
It asks suppliers to, with immediate effect, prioritise smart meter installs for all legacy PAYG households, and not impose a standing charge.
The white paper also wants suppliers to improve education and myth busting around the stigma associated with PAYG energy, which is a choice for the majority (86 per cent) who use it .
And finally, it wants all government departments to work collaboratively to better identify a simple strategy for helping households avoid self-disconnecting.
Avoiding bill shock
Bill Bullen, founder and CEO of Utilita Energy, said: “Unless the customer has refused a smart meter, there’s no excuse for legacy meters to exist today.
“I cannot just sit by knowing that there are 2.25m legacy PAYG households who are currently being under-served and are at risk of self-disconnecting and suffering in silence as a result of having an outdated meter.
“Having no choice but to sit at home without heating or light is unacceptable and our government and the regulator must intervene immediately to stop self-disconnections for good.”
The white paper includes a section on the PAYG energy landscape and the households who prepay for the energy they use.
The nationally representative study of PAYG households currently served by UK energy suppliers revealed 86 per cent choose to prepay for the energy - not because they have accrued debt.
A further section busts the common myths about PAYG energy, such as the misconception that it is uniformly more expensive, and the technology is ‘outdated’.
Sasha Dixon, head of Utilita’s Extra Care Team and responsible for a team of specialist call handlers who take up to 500 calls from vulnerable customers every day, said: “Speaking to tens of thousands of low income and vulnerable households each year, the common theme on every call is debt avoidance.
“For these households, Smart PAYG helps them to avoid bill shock and gives them access to interest-free financial assistance if and when they need it.
“In the event that we offer to switch these households to credit mode, they’re mostly horrified at the thought of it, and refuse it.
“I know these households well enough to say that if they were forced onto credit mode many would sit in the cold and dark out of fear of running up a large bill they cannot pay.
“Self-disconnection is not a fault or a result of the payment method - self-disconnection happens as a result of low income and for that the welfare system is at fault.”