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The Guardian view on energy prepayment meters: customers need protecting | Editorial

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When millions of people have their energy cut off, the system isn’t working. Ministers must step in

The fact that 3.2 million people in Britain were left in the cold and dark last year after their energy prepayment meters ran out of credit shows that something has gone seriously wrong. The more information that emerges about the use of these meters, the more reasons for concern there seem to be. By shining a light on energy companies’ practices, and particularly what looks like a slapdash approach to consent, campaigners have succeeded in creating a sense of urgency. On Friday, Labour’s Ed Miliband called for an immediate to halt to forced installations.

Ministers have also voiced concerns, but the question is how quickly and effectively action will be taken. Citizens Advice says that more people sought help with energy last year than in the past 10 years combined, with standing charges for meters another cost imposed on those who can least afford them. The rate of switching from other payment methods rose from 380,000 in 2021 to 600,000 in 2022. Faced by growing numbers of people priced out of energy use, suppliers have decided to get tough. Needless to say, many of those affected are also struggling with food prices and the chronic insecurity of privately rented housing.

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