4 May: British Gas has announced that it will no longer use a third-party contractor that broke into customers’ homes to install prepayment meters on its behalf.
The decision comes after a report by the Times revealed that agents working for Arvato Financial Solutions had forced their way into vulnerable people’s homes, sometimes using locksmiths and bailiffs, to fit the meters.
British Gas had temporarily suspended all forced meter fittings under warrant in February, following the public outcry. It also commissioned an independent review by Promontory Financial Services, which found that there had been “no systemic issues” with the practice, but that in four cases out of 2,000 last year, the contractor had acted incorrectly or inappropriately.
The energy firm said it was “permanently” ending its relationship with Arvato and would bring the work in-house. It also said it would follow new guidance from the energy regulator Ofgem, which bans forced meter fittings in homes with residents all aged over 85 and gives customers more time to clear their debts.
Chris O’Shea, the chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas, said: “I was deeply concerned when I saw the way some of our prepayment customers were treated earlier this year. It’s not how I want us to do business and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to say how sorry I am and to apologise to anyone involved in cases where our actions fell short of the high standards we set ourselves.”
Prepayment meters allow customers to pay for their gas and electricity in advance, usually by topping up a card or key at a shop. They are often used by customers who have fallen behind on their bills or have poor credit ratings. However, they can also be more expensive than other tariffs and limit customers’ choice of suppliers.
British Gas said it had fitted 2.1 million smart prepayment meters since 2017, which allow customers to top up online or over the phone. It also said it had helped more than 100,000 customers switch from prepayment to credit meters last year.
Arvato said it was “hugely disappointed” by British Gas’s decision and that it had “deeply regretted” any misconduct by individual employees. It also said it had taken “swift and decisive action” to address the issues raised by the Times report.