Households are at risk of falling into poverty without realizing it – because of outdated energy meters

A study has shown that 2.25million British households could be in danger of falling into energy poverty or even dying from outdated energy meters.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.

This means that vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, disabled, or ill, may not be able to make it through winter.

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.

Utilita Energy CEO Bill Bullen submitted a whitepaper requesting five major interventions from government to BEIS (The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), and Ofgem.

It asks suppliers not to impose a charge but to prioritise smart meters for legacy PAYG households.

Avoiding bill shock

The whitepaper also calls for suppliers to educate on PAYG energy and bust myths around it. This is an option for 86% of those who choose it.

It also wants all government departments working together to find a simple strategy to help households avoid self-disconnection.

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currently being under-served and are at risk of self-disconnecting and suffering in silence as a result of having an outdated meter.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 whitepaper includes a section about the PAYG energy landscape, and the households that prepay to use the energy.

A nationally representative study of PAYG households served by UK energy suppliers found that 86% choose to prepay for their energy, and not because they have accumulated 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.”

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