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No ‘systemic’ problems at British Gas, but review finds four cases of wrongdoing

British Gas incorrectly forced two customers onto prepayment meters last year, according to a review by the company which also found that one of its contractors had behaved poorly in a further two cases.

The company said that it would stop working with outside contractors to force-fit prepayment meters, after a review sparked by a Times investigation.

The review looked into 321 cases, including 49 flagged by the newspaper, finding no “systemic” issues, but warned that there were some cases of wrongdoing and that other instances needed to be assessed in more depth.

Of the six cases which the newspaper included in its reporting, in two the British Gas contractor had acted in a way which “fell below the standard of conduct expected … when engaging with customers or operating in their homes.”

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But the reviewers also said that contractors at Arvato Financial Solutions had not broken British Gas’s rules, or the law, when fitting meters in the homes of those two customers.

It had, however, erred when installing prepayment meters in the homes of two other customers.

“Given the personal circumstances of the customer involving physical vulnerabilities, an installation was not appropriate from the perspective of the requirement that an installation is ‘safe and reasonably practicable’,” British Gas’s internal report found.

It added that in both cases the customer was happy with the installation of a prepayment meter (PPM), but still the installation should not have gone ahead.

“Whilst I understand why … the Arvato warrant officer formed a conclusion that the installation was reasonable, when taking account of the relevant guidance, I consider that these installations should not have proceeded,” the report said.

On top of these four cases the review said there were a further three where customers were wrongly charged for the fitting of a warrant and three more where the contractor had erroneously applied for a warrant to fit a prepayment meter.

The review also flagged a further 40 cases with insufficient records, notes or where the installation had happened in an empty home.

There was no evidence of any wrongdoing in any of these 40 cases.

The review found:

– Two cases where “an installation was not appropriate”
– Two other cases which “fell below the standard of conduct expected”
– Three cases where “the costs of applying for and executing a warrant were erroneously applied”
– Thee other cases where “warrants were erroneously applied for”
– 13 cases “contained insufficient data in the records”
– 13 other cases where the agent had not properly recorded how they discussed a customer’s vulnerability with them
– 14 cases “where the customer was not present in the home at the time of the installation”

Chris O’Shea, the boss of British Gas owner Centrica, said: “I was deeply concerned when I saw the way some of our prepayment customers were treated earlier this year.

“It’s not how I want us to do business and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to say how sorry I am and to apologise to anyone involved in cases where our actions fell short of the high standards we set ourselves.

“I’m reassured that the investigation found no systemic issues with the treatment of prepayment customers, but it did highlight areas where we can, and should, do better.

“We’re already implementing those changes and I hope the action we are taking to improve our approach shows our commitment to doing everything we can to support our vulnerable customers.”

A gas hob (Yui Mok/PA)
A gas hob (Yui Mok/PA)

British Gas said it would permanently stop working with third-party contractors to force-fit prepayment meters in customers homes, to give it more oversight over the process.

The report also urged ministers to pass new laws to allow the Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs to share more data with energy suppliers on customers who are physically or financially vulnerable.

“Absent these measures, suppliers will continue to encounter difficulties in determining the appropriate course of action in situations such as those described in the case studies in this chapter,” it said.

The report also recommended that anyone force-fitting a prepayment meter for British Gas should in future be required to wear a body camera.

In the past they have recorded audio, but not video.

It recommended compensation for wronged customers.

The report said that the 20,469 British Gas customers who had a prepayment meter force-fitted last year, owed an average of £1,255 and had been in debt for an average of 449 days before a prepayment meter was fitted.