The boss of British Gas owner Centrica said there was “no excuse” after an investigation found the company sent debt collectors who broke into the homes of vulnerable customers to install prepaid meters.
A Times investigation showed that a company used by British Gas to chase debt, Arvato Financial Solutions, forced its way into homes to plant the devices, despite signs that children and disabled people lived there.
Chris O’Shea also said that customers do not deserve to be treated that way and that he would not “justify” it, adding that he is launching an independent investigation.
“I’m really, really sorry,” he added, speaking to the Sky News business presenter. ian rey.
“Clearly we messed up here and we’re going to fix that.”
He said he was “disappointed, angry and gutted” by undercover footage of the investigation, from The Times newspaper, which includes a debt collector saying “this is the exciting part… I love this part” as a locksmith prepares to force a door.
“This is not who I am, this is not the standard I set for myself, this is not the standards I set for the company, this is not who we are, this is not how we do business, there is no excuse,” O’Shea added.
How do prepaid meters work and what are the rules surrounding them?
What you need to know about allegations that prepaid meters were foisted on vulnerable customers
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s official spokesman called the reports “deeply shocking and worrying” and confirmed that the energy minister would meet British Gas on Thursday afternoon.
“Vulnerable families should not be treated so badly, British Gas has now rightly suspended this practice,” he said, before adding: “There are circumstances where prepaid meters are allowed but it doesn’t appear, according to reports, that this is happening in this case.”
Ofgem, the energy regulator, opens an urgent investigation into british gas after the complaints.
“These are extremely serious allegations from The Times. We are launching an urgent investigation into British Gas and will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action,” an Ofgem spokesperson said.
The Times reported that British Gas customers forcibly fitted with prepaid meters included a woman in her 50s described in work notes as “severe mental health bipolar” and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and an electric wheelchair.
In its undercover investigation, the newspaper also alleged that employees of Arvato Financial Solutions received bonus incentives to install prepaid meters.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “appalled” by the report and asked Graham Stuart, the energy minister, to meet the company.
Shadow Climate and Net Zero secretary Ed Miliband said: “It’s true you’re horrified. Now do something about it and BAN the forced installation of prepaid meters this winter. What are you waiting for?”
In its statement, Centrica said it would complete a “thorough investigation” and that the warranty suspension would last “at least until after winter.”
For its part, Arvato Financial Solutions told the Times “acts in compliance at all times in accordance with regulatory requirements” and the findings do not represent the company’s views or its official guidance on how to interact with customers.
A spokesperson told the newspaper: “If there has been any verbal or other misconduct by individual employees, we are deeply sorry.”
According to Ofgem, obtaining a court order to force adjustment of a prepaid meter should be a “last resort” after “all reasonable steps have been taken to arrange payment.”
He said providers can’t force fit a prepaid meter on order for people in “very vulnerable situations” if they don’t want one and can’t use orders “on people who would find the experience very traumatic.”
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Last week Ofgem announced it will review the checks and balances energy companies have for placing customers on prepaid meters, warning it will take further legal action if it finds they are not being careful.
According to Citizens Advice, some 3.2 million people in Britain ran out of credit on their prepaid meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top it up.