Energy firms issue staff with stab vests

Emma Woollacott
AG7XCR Three Gas ring night light gassing blue
AG7XCR Three Gas ring night light gassing blue

Stab vests have been issued to energy company staff investigating unpaid bills and forcibly installing prepaid meters.

After advice from risk assessors about the dangers from energy customers, British Gas has given the protective gear to around 180 workers. Meanwhile, EDF Energy has issued around 200 stab vests too.

"Electricity and gas theft is a serious crime which puts lives at risk and adds unnecessary costs to customers' bills" a spokesperson for British Gas told the Daily Telegraph.

"Because of the nature of the work our energy theft teams do, we've made protective clothing available to them."

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Npower, E.On, SSE and ScottishPower told the paper that they are reviewing the situation, but have not yet felt the need to follow suit.

The affected workers are those who investigate unpaid bills and energy theft - tampering with meters and the like. In such cases, energy companies often install pre-paid meters 'under warrant': against the householder's will.

"Energy theft is a serious and dangerous issue with significant impacts on local communities," says Tony Thornton, chairman of the UK Revenue Protection Association.

"Tampering with a gas or electricity meter can lead to fire, explosion, electrocution and death. The dangers of meter tampering are not confined to the individual – fire can spread, explosions can destroy neighbouring homes and attending emergency services are put at serious risk."

However, regulator Ofgem has expressed concern at the sharp rise in the number of forced installations of prepaid meters, which generally have higher tariffs than normal ones. More than 97,000 gas and electricity meters were installed under warrant last year, up from about 64,000 in 2009.

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"Installing prepayment meters under warrant should be used as a last resort by energy suppliers when consumers get into debt. It is a way to prevent a customer from being disconnected," says an Ofgem spokesperson.

"Suppliers can only install a prepayment meter where it is safe and reasonably practical for the consumer to use."

Fuel Poverty Action is campaigning against forced installations, saying they demonstrate just how much power energy companies have over people's lives.

"Customers on prepayment meters... pay more for power than those on direct debit, despite paying in advance and have to live in fear of the running out of money and being left in the cold and dark," it says in a statement.

"Households are in fuel bill debt because bills are too high, homes are too drafty and wages and benefits are too low. We could have clean and affordable energy without any home break-ins, but this means challenging the power of the Big Six — if Ofgem won't do this, plenty of cold and angry bill-payers will."

Martin Lewis Analyses Fall in E.ON Gas Prices
Martin Lewis Analyses Fall in E.ON Gas Prices

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