prepaid meter, an energy poverty machine

Although the thermometer does not exceed 2 ° C, Richard Betts leaves his home in socks. This 50-year-old London taxi driver goes to inspect his gas meter, which is located in a cupboard next to the door of his house. “There is still… 3.29 pounds (€3.75), he says after pressing the red button on the meter. It won’t last until tonight, I have to go out and hand over the money, otherwise we won’t have any more heat. »

Two or three times more expensive than last year

Betts has a prepaid meter for their gas consumption. They therefore regularly go to a neighboring company to credit the card provided by the company SSE, their supplier. The card must then be inserted into the meter slot for their credit to count. “That’s a lot for a Thursday night, considering I’ve already paid £60 (€69) since Monday he grumbles and pulls out three receipts from his wallet. We pay two to three times more than last year, while heating much less. » His wife, Kelie, 46, a part-time cashier and part-time carer for people with disabilities, said: “I turn off the heat during the day and set the thermostat to 18°C ​​when we get home from work or the children from school. And if I’m cold when I’m sitting on the sofa, I put the electric blanket on. »

With two salaries, Betts doesn’t consider herself to be stingy. They know that many fellow citizens do not benefit from such conditions, however spartan they may seem. And in particular a large part of the almost 10 million Britons who also have a prepaid meter, for gas or electricity, sometimes both. Their number is constantly increasing: 160,000 people will be provided with such a device against their will by the end of winter, following a legal request from their energy supplier, according to a report by the charity Citizens Advice. They were already 600,000 in this case in 2022.

Charities and MPs are mobilizing

Energy suppliers require the installation, at a cost, of a prepaid meter when their customers take on too much debt and fail to repay it. In this case, gas or electricity in these homes will automatically stop when the credit is used up. In 2022, 3.2 million Britons had their electricity or gas cut off because they were financially unable to re-credit their cards, including 600,000 for more than 24 hours, again according to Citizens Advice. 860,000 are even cut at least once a week. Specifically, they can no longer warm themselves, cook, wash, keep their fridge on…

Suppliers are not allowed to install a pre-paid meter in a home where a long-term patient or disabled person lives and have committed not to cut off access to energy for families with children this winter. Obligations and promises which are not kept. Thus, 130,000 households, including a sick or disabled person, have seen their access to energy interrupted at least once a week, according to Citizens’ Council. These miserable living conditions explain the appeals of many charities, representatives, but also the tabloid The sun to prohibit the installation of these meters this winter. Without Rishi Sunak’s conservative government responding to it yet.

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