Centrica, the owner of British Gas, said there are “no excuses” after an investigation found the company sent debt collectors who broke into vulnerable customers’ homes to install prepayment meters.
A Times investigation showed a company used by British Gas to pursue debt, Arvato Financial Solutions, forcing their way into homes to fit the devices, despite signs that children and disabled people lived there.
Chris O’Shea added that customers do not deserve to be treated that way, and that it would not be “justified” – adding that he is launching an independent investigation.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, speaking to a Sky News business presenter, Ian King.
“We’ve obviously got it wrong here and we’re going to fix that.”
He said he felt “disappointment, disgust and terror” at undercover footage from the investigation, carried by The Times newspaper, which includes one debt collector saying “this is the shocking bit… I love this bit ”, as a locksmith prepares to oblige. door
“This is not who I am, this is not the standard I set, it’s not the standards I set for the company, it’s not who we are, it’s not how we do business, there’s no excuse,” said Mr O’Shea.
How do prepayment meters work and what are the rules around them?
What you need to know about allegations Prepaid meters were forced on vulnerable customers
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s official spokesman called the reports “extremely alarming and worrying” and confirmed that the Energy Minister had a meeting with British Gas on Thursday evening.
“Vulnerable families should not be treated so badly, this practice has now been suspended by British Gas,” he said, before adding: “There are circumstances where prepayment meters are allowed but from reports it does not appear to be this is happening in this case.”
Ofgem, the energy regulator, is launching an urgent investigation into British gas after the allegations.
“These are very serious allegations from the Times. We are launching an urgent investigation into British Gas and will not hesitate to take firm enforcement action,” said an Ofgem spokesman.
The Times reported that a woman in her 50s described in post notes as having “bipolar mental ill health” and a mother with a “disabled daughter who has a lift and an electric wheelchair” were among British Gas customers fitted with pre-paid meters. force.
In its undercover investigation, the paper also alleged that Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivized with bonuses to install prepayment meters.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “horrified” by the report and asked Graham Stuart, the energy minister, to hold a meeting with the company.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate and net zero secretary, said: “It’s okay to be horrified. Do something about it now and prevent the forced installation of prepayment meters this winter. What are you waiting for ?”
In its statement, Centrica said it would complete a “thorough investigation” and that the suspension of the warranty would last “until at least after winter”.
Meanwhile, Arvato Financial Solutions said the Times acts “at all times in compliance with regulatory requirements” and the findings did not reflect the company’s views or official guidance on how to interact with customers.
A spokesman told the paper: “If there has been any verbal or other misconduct by individual employees, we deeply regret it.”
According to Ofgem, obtaining a court warrant to fit a prepayment meter should be a “last resort” after “all reasonable steps have been taken to agree payment”.
He said suppliers cannot fit a prepaid meter under warranty to people in “very vulnerable situations” unless they need one and cannot use warranties “on people who would have had a very traumatic experience”.
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Last week, Ofgem announced it is to review the checks and balances energy firms have in place for putting customers on pre-paid meters, warning it will take further legal action if it finds out they are not taking proper care.
According to Citizens Advice, an estimated 3.2 million people across Britain ran out of credit on their prepaid meters last year because they couldn’t afford to top it up.