I'm 64 and can't work due to illness – I was distraught when British Gas installed a prepayment meter without consent | The Sun

I'm 64 and can't work due to illness – I was distraught when British Gas installed a prepayment meter without consent | The Sun


TERRIFED Ann Ashby must walk down a slippery wet path round the back of her bungalow every time she needs to top up her gas pre-payment meter.

The 64-year-old, who is unable to work due chronic pain in her joints, had a the meter installed in her garden by a debt collection firm on behalf of British Gas – but she never agreed to it.

This was despite being on the priority service register, which is meant to protect vulnerable customers.

The former office administrator, who lives in Chelmsford in Essex, also has been in hospital recently after suffering a mini-stroke, said: "I’m utterly distraught and with everything going on it just feels like British Gas completely left me out in the cold even though I was on the priority services register."

British Gas has an app that pre-payment meter customers can use to top-up, but Ann has been unable to use it as won't connect with her meter.

It means she must go out in the cold to punch in a code to the meter every time it needs topping up.

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British Gas as recently come under fire for using a debt collection firm which forcibly installed meters in the homes of vulnerable customers after an investigation by The Times.

The scandal sparked an urgent inquiry by regulator Ofgem and British Gas and other suppliers have been banned from forcibly installing devices.

Previously, debt collection firms working on behalf of energy giants would get warrants.

These would give them the legal right to enter homes and install the meters, but these should only be used in exceptional circumstances and should be a last resort.

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Ann, who lives alone, fell into debt shortly after when her bank account was hacked in April 2021.

The bank put a block on her account which meant that her direct debt agreement was cancelled – and it took her months to realise.

She said: "My bank account was scammed but after Santander put a block on the account I had no idea that my payments to my supplier had stopped.

"The problem is, I was receiving so many confusing letters that I didn’t know what to do.

"I haven't been able to pay for both my energy debts and my usage – if I was to pay off both I'd have no cash left to eat."

In total she owed £1,462 to British Gas – but Ann lives off £256 a fortnight in benefits and is barely able to cover the cost of her essential bills.

She ended up so low on cash that she visited food banks.

"It's utterly humiliating and horrendously sad that I've had to take myself to my local food bank just to ensure I get a meal a day," she added.

Ann says she told British Gas that she couldn't afford to repay the money.

The energy giant says that it tired to contact Ann to help support her, but she denies this.

In August 2022, Ann received a visit from debt collection agency Arvato who installed the gas meter in her garden.

Every time Ann tops up her meter £3.70 is automatically deducted to help clear her debt, that means if she adds £5, only £1.30 can be used to heat her home.

She said: "The people who fitted the meter were extremely unhelpful and I had no idea how to top it up through the app.

"I kept trying to and phoned British Gas to ask why my payments weren't going through.

"Just before Christmas, I spent a whole week freezing because I couldn't top up the meter and so I had no gas."

British Gas eventually offered her the solution of helping her top up over the phone.

A British Gas spokesperson said: "We have been in touch with Mrs Ashby and will be discussing the help and support available for her.

"We only install prepayment meters under warrant as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.

"This takes many months where there are multiple efforts to engage with a customer and the majority of the time, we can find a solution such as access to our support funds or payment plans."

British Gas had encouraged Ann to apply for help through the British Gas Energy Trust, but at the time her application was unsuccessful as she wasn't classed as "vulnerable enough", she says.

The firm has committed to changing the prepayment gas meter back to a normal meter and it is working with her to find an affordable solution to clear her debts.

The boss of the energy regulator Ofgem has said that energy firms should offer payouts to households where meters were wrongly fitted.

But the temporary ban on energy firms forcibly putting customers onto prepayment meters will still end in March, according to the regulator.

What energy bill help is available?

A £900 payment will be going to millions on means-tested benefits and Universal Credit this year.

To be eligible for the payment, households will need to be claiming at least one of the following:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Tax Credits (Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit)
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Support
  • Social Fund (Sure Start Maternity Grant, Funeral Payment, Cold Weather Payment)
  • Universal Credit

Elderly Brits will receive another one-off £300 pensioner cost of living payment.

Those with certain disabilities will also qualify for a further £150 cost of living payment.

Energy suppliers also offer plenty of energy grants and schemes to help you out if you're struggling. Here's a list of schemes open right now:

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  • British Gas Energy Trust Individuals and Family Fund
  • British Gas Energy Trust
  • EDF Customer Support Fund
  • E.ON and E.ON Next Grants
  • Octopus Energy Assist Fund
  • OVO Energy
  • Scottish Power Hardship Fund

There's also a one-off fuel voucher from your energy supplier if you're on a prepayment meter.

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