Back charges are putting prepaid customers into debt

Scottish PowerEdinburgh, UK — (METERING.COM) — September 5, 2006 – Consumer watchdog body energywatch Scotland has announced that as many as 250,000 electric and gas customers with token prepayment meters have gone into debt because of the increases in energy prices in recent times. The token meters have to be recalibrated after each increase, and customers have built up back charges because they are continuing to pay at the old tariff.

Now consumer bodies are asking utilities to stop collecting these back charges, and have requested UK regulator Ofgem to set a time limit for meter calibration. Scottish Gas, ScottishPower, npower and Powergen are collecting these back charges, while Scottish Hydro and EDF Energy are not.

Centrica, which owns Scottish Gas, is undertaking a meter replacement program, and says all its token meters will be replaced with keypad meters by the middle of next year. These meters can be updated automatically whenever a price increase takes place. Both ScottishPower – which owns over 60 percent of the prepayment meters used in Scotland – and Powergen are involved with similar projects, and npower is due to start replacing token meters later this year.

A spokesman for Ofgem has said the regulator is considering the imposition of a time limit on recalibrating prepayment meters.