British Gas has been hit with allegations its debt collectors broke into the homes of vulnerable customers to fit prepayment meters, after an undercover investigation by The Times.
Here’s what we know so far about the claims, the evidence and the investigations that have been launched.
What is British Gas accused of?
British Gas is accused of sending debt collectors who broke into customers’ homes to install prepayment meters.
An undercover investigation by The Times claimed a company used by British Gas to pursue debts, Arvato Financial Solutions, had forced their way into homes to fit the devices, despite signs children and disabled people were living there.
The paper also alleged that Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters.
What’s the evidence?
A reporter for The Times went undercover working at Arvato, capturing video and audio recordings from jobs where he accompanied debt collectors to fit prepayment meters.
Who is affected?
The customers visited by debt collectors were people who had fallen behind on their bill payments.
When this happens, the power company can apply to the court for a warrant to install a prepayment meter – although regulator Ofgem says this should be a “last resort” after “all reasonable steps have been taken to agree payment”.
The investigation claimed debt collectors ignored customers’ vulnerabilities.
The Times reported that British Gas customers who had prepayment meters fitted by force included a woman in her 50s described in job notes as “severe mental health bipolar” and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and electric wheelchair”.
What has British Gas said?
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, said in a statement that “all warrant activity” had been suspended and that protecting vulnerable customers is an “absolute priority”.
Warrant activity involves the company applying to the court for a warrant to install a prepayment meter
Centrica boss Chris O’Shea said he is launching an independent investigation, telling Sky News’ business presenter Ian King he felt “disappointed, livid and gutted”.
He said “there is no excuse” for what the undercover investigation uncovered.
What has the regulator said?
Ofgem, the energy regulator, is launching an urgent investigation into British Gas following the allegations.
“We won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action,” they said in a statement.
“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.
“We have launched a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it.”
What have MPs said about it?
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “horrified” by the report and has asked Graham Stuart, energy minister, to hold a meeting with the company in the “coming days”.
Shadow climate and net zero secretary Ed Miliband said: “It’s right that you are horrified. Now do something about it and BAN the forced installation of prepayment meters this winter. What are you waiting for?”
What has Arvato said?
Arvato Financial Solutions told the Times it “acts compliantly at all times in accordance with the regulatory requirements” and the findings did not represent the company’s views or its official guidance on how to interact with customers.
A spokesman told the paper: “If there has been any verbal or any other type of misconduct by individual employees, we deeply regret it.”