From STOP THESE THINGS
With power prices soaring out of control, it’s little wonder that thousands of British families can’t afford electricity. Every time Britain is hit with a bout of calm weather, wholesale power prices go through the roof.
In response to soaring wholesale power prices, the retail price cap that kept a lid on power bills over the last few years has been lifted (see above), such that power has now become a luxury item and forever out of reach for thousands of low-income households.
Add to that to the cost of the hundreds of £millions doled out in subsidies to wind power outfits to produce no power at all, and the tens of £billions they pocket, when they do, and Britain’s subsidised wind power-fixated energy policy looks positively obscene.
In the postwar period, British governments targeted policies that ensured that even the poorest households had access to reliable electricity, which came to be regarded as a birthright.
Those days are long gone.
Having created a market where power scarcity (and associated price gouging by the owners of the remaining dispatchable coal-fired and gas-fired power plants) follows calm weather and sunset, it was inevitable that those entities retailing the stuff would pull out all stops to recover a premium for any power actually delivered to those lucky enough presumed to be able to afford it.
Which brings us to the so-called Smart Meter; devices designed to both limit (or prevent) households’ access to electricity (think forced power rationing) and set the price that they pay for it, on a minute-by-minute basis, depending on scarcity. Which, as we just noted, now depends entirely upon the weather.
The Meters set up by energy retailers may not be altogether Smart, but their owners are certainly clever. At least in terms of the lengths that they’ll go to literally get a foot in the door, as Dean Kirby explains below.
Struggling energy customers facing ‘wild west’ system of warrants to force entry into homes
20 December 2022
Energy firms are being handed the right to force their way into thousands of customer homes without justice officials knowing why the warrants are being granted, it can be revealed.
An investigation by i has discovered how magistrates are batch-processing hundreds of warrants in just minutes to allow debt agents acting on behalf of suppliers to force entry into homes to fit controversial prepayment meters.
The Ministry of Justice has now admitted it has no record of why access to homes has been sought, whether to forcibly install the meters or for other reasons.
It also said that, once inside a customer’s home, the energy firm could “exercise any other right of entry while there”.
The admission has raised further doubts about the level of oversight for warrants being issued by courts to energy firms to force entry into properties. It has also prompted accusations of a legal “wild west” leaving some of the UK’s poorest families at risk of having no gas or electricity this Christmas.
MPs have urged the Government to halt the forced installations this winter, telling the Commons in a two-hour debate they fear a “conveyor belt” of warrants is leaving vulnerable customers in the cold and dark – including terminally ill people returning home to die.
Caroline Lucas MP said: “These court warrants en masse are being carried out with disgraceful lack of due diligence and care.
“Ministers have serious questions to answer. What specific reasoning is behind each of these forced-entry warrants, why they’re being rushed through at breakneck speed without proper verification and how on earth they have been allowed to happen in the first place?
“These court warrants amount to a mass exploitation of the vulnerable and the voiceless – and they must be banned immediately.”
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Campaign, said: “It is deeply concerning to hear there is confusion at the heart of Government and the courts about what these warrants are for and why they are being secured.
“The Government needs to very quickly get a grip of this legal wild west, which is spiralling out of control while companies are continuing to force the poorest people in society onto these more expensive meters.”
Industry insiders have told i the process has gone “beyond rubber stamping” as thousands of warrants are “nodded through” each week in “huge batches” of up to 700 at a time.
The College of Policing has issued new advice after some police officers doubted the validity of the “extremely sparse” warrants, which are being granted over the phone by magistrates in a digital format with “wet ink signatures” no longer required.
A new system allowing firms to request these digital warrants over the phone was introduced in 2019, with the college telling officers: “The reasoning is to allow companies to produce the warrant on a tablet or other device if needed, instead of having to possess a paper copy.
“The original digital warrant was extremely sparse and stated only the very barest essentials, leading to some officers to doubt its validity. It has now been updated.”
i told earlier this month how magistrates at one court in northern England granted 496 utility warrants in just three minutes and 51 seconds as a debt agent representing several major energy firms dialled in by telephone.
Prepayment meters are controversial because they are a more expensive way to buy energy and can leave customers facing a choice between self-disconnecting their gas and electricity or being pushed deeper in to debt.
One woman has described how her daughter awoke with cold hands and had the worst asthma attack of her life as she struggles to feed their prepayment meter to keep it going.
The Ministry of Justice told i in a Freedom of Information response in November that courts had issued nearly 500,000 entry warrants in England and Wales since July 2021 specifically to allow firms or their agents to forcibly install prepayment meters.
But in an apologetic updated response after i‘s investigation was published, it has admitted it holds no data specifically on warrants granted for the installation of the meters.
It said: “The figures provided are for warrants of entry granted on behalf of energy companies but the reason for each cannot be broken down further.
“Warrants do not record the purpose of the entry, so we do not have recorded information as to the purpose of the warrant or the purpose for which the provider wishes to enter – and in any event the provider might enter with one intention, but could exercise any other right of entry while there.”
Industry sources, however, insist that the vast bulk of all domestic forced entries are for fitting a prepayment meter.
One industry source with knowledge of the warrants system told i: “The court system is centralised. They are done in huge batches. There are hundreds if not thousands a week from different suppliers. The courts are stretched. I’m not sure there is significant scrutiny of the cases. If there are no objections, they are just nodded through.
“The worry, the big risk, is that the people in the most debt who do not engage with the process, who don’t open that letter about the court case, are usually those who are the most vulnerable.”
Another source said uncontested cases are being heard hundreds of miles from where people live, adding: “It can be four hours away. Literally, a warrant officer picks up the phone and says, ‘I’ve got some warrants’ and the magistrates say ‘OK’.
“They used to pull some out of the file and quiz the warrant officer. Now, it’s done over the phone and it’s even worse. It’s gone beyond rubber stamping. They don’t even stamp them anymore. Warrants are sent out electronically without even a signature and are not even printed out.”
Glasgow North East MP Anne McLaughlin urged the Government to halt self-disconnection for people on prepayment meters in a Commons debate she tabled on the issue last week, adding: “I am desperately worried that people are going to die – people who would have lived had this awful practice been outlawed.”
Ofgem says forced entries “should only ever be a very last resort” and “suppliers’ obligations are clear”. It is urging customers to check they are on their suppliers’ priority services register.
Energy UK, the industry trade body, says suppliers face “difficult decisions” in dealing with customers in debt and the warrants are a last resort after “exhausting all other options” and after vulnerability checks are carried out.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Energy companies are required to provide evidence on whether customers are vulnerable under oath when applying for a warrant and there are penalties for giving false information.”
Remember when cheap and reliable power was a birthright?