Vulnerable people most likely to be moved onto high-cost prepayment meters

While millions of UK households prepare to face a difficult winter with soaring energy bills, it will be the UK’s four million people on the more expensive prepayment meters, that will suffer the most.

Independent research from the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) has uncovered that the most vulnerable people in the UK are more likely to be moved onto higher cost prepayment meters – 8% of vulnerable people have been moved on to prepayment meters in the last 12 months compared to 4% of the total UK population. This is despite Ofgem banning forcible installations for the most vulnerable in 2018.

These are vulnerable people who are already at breaking point, often already facing extreme levels of debt, mentally unable to understand their finances or manage their day-to-day tasks or physically far more reliant on services from their utility providers.

The Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS), a not-for-profit company providing the UK’s first central vulnerability database, found that 11% of those vulnerable people who were moved onto a prepayment meter had low resilience and unable to cope with any kind of financial or emotional shock, while 12% had low knowledge, confidence or capability when it came to managing their money.

Despite the very clear cost-of-living challenges households are facing and Ofgem pressure to improve identification of vulnerable customers, only 18% of vulnerable people have been proactively asked by their utility provider if they are vulnerable. The good news is that once asked, 84% said their vulnerable customer status was taken into consideration and they were treated fairly.

Missed payments and disconnections

While energy companies have been urged to reduce disconnections and find better ways to resolve debt, 2 million (4%) people said they were still threatened with their gas or electricity supply being disconnected. Among those who were highly vulnerable this figure climbed to – 7%.

4.3 million (8%) UK adults have missed gas and electricity bill payments or gone into arrears, while 4 million (8%) have been fined for non-payment or late payment of debts. This picture is worse for vulnerable people – 15% and 15% of vulnerable people respectively.

Helen Lord, CEO of the Vulnerability Registration Service, said: “It is unacceptable that people that can least afford it are paying more for their energy and being put at risk of harm. This needs to stop. It is hard enough for any person trying to get through to organisations online or on the phone. Those most in need of support shouldn’t be left to fight for it when they are often the least able.

“Utility firms need to take action to better identify and provide targeted support to their vulnerable customers – the data and resources are available to do this right now. Our VRS data can help utility firms identify right now who in their database is vulnerable, so that they can allocate their resources effectively and be proactive.

“We would also urge any vulnerable person who has not already identified themselves to their utility provider to do so. They can ask to be placed on the Priority Services Register  –  a register of utility customers who may require support due to their personal circumstances or characteristics. We would also urge them to register for free with the Vulnerable Registration Service so that their vulnerable circumstances can be highlighted to other organisations that should be taking their circumstances into account.”