Thursday 19 January 2023

Nation-wide protests against forced prepayment meters - outright ban and removal demanded

 From Fuel Poverty Action


Today, Fuel Poverty Action and allied groups begin several days of protest against fuel poverty in the UK. An announcement from the group stated that:


 From Edinburgh to Exeter, we will join together with the National Pensioner’s Convention, Don’t Pay, Disabled People Against Cuts and Extinction Rebellion for vigils, warm-ups and digital actions.’ 


The date coincides with the Office for National Statistics announcing the excess winter death figures for 2021/22. Fuel Poverty Action and the National Pensioner’s Convention have historically protested around this annual event and will mark the day with events in London and Cardiff.


The groups are collectively demanding the UK government ban forced prepayment meters. The government has come under increasing pressure to take this measure since an investigation by the i paper revealed that energy companies have secured half a million warrants to enter people’s homes and install meters since July 2021. Further reports have uncovered that only 72 warrant applications in total were refused by magistrates. Citizens Advice also announced that 3.2 million people were disconnected due to being unable to top up prepayment meters in 2022, more than the previous 10 years combined. Grant Shapps has stated officials are ‘actively working’ on the issue but is yet to announce a concrete ban or moratorium.

Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action Co-Founder, said:


We need an outright ban, and urgent removal of the hundreds of thousands of meters that have been installed where they are not safe or practical in defiance of suppliers' licence conditions. The energy suppliers were quick to find men to drill out locks and break into homes to install these meters, now they must act quickly to take them out.  People are being left in the cold and dark even when they are dependent on heat or on power for disability aids, medical equipment, for light and for charging phones.  Every delay will lead to deaths. 

In Westminster, attendees will gather at 11.30am to hear speeches before a minute's silence as Big Ben strikes 12 to commemorate those who have been killed by living in cold and damp homes. Speakers will include Lord Prem Sikka, Ruth London, Jan Shortt the NPC General Secretary, Paula Peters of DPAC and Simon Francis, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition Coordinator. The event will conclude with a short march and rally outside Downing Street.

A similar event, organised by NPC Wales, will begin at 11am on the same date in Cardiff Central Square.

Jan Shortt, General Secretary, the National Pensioners’ Convention said:



It’s shameful that anyone in this country should die as a result of the cold. Yet tens of thousands more will do so if the government does not act as a matter of urgency. We would cautiously welcome Business Secretary Grant Shapps’ announced intention to stop forced transfers to pre-payment meters, which is a step in the right direction.  But we will monitor just how successful that is and what his intentions would be for energy providers who ignore it.

Further vigils will follow on Friday 20th January, as locals meet at Brighton War Memorial, Old Steine, at 10.30am. As well as on Saturday 21st, when gatherings will take place at Leicester Town Hall at 11am and a Shell garage on Newnham Road, Cambridge, at 12pm.

Saturday 21st January will also mark the date for a next round of ‘Warm-Up’ protests, a form of direct action used by Fuel Poverty Action throughout its nearly 12 year history. Participants will enter public spaces or buildings to keep warm together due to unaffordable fuel bills and poor housing conditions at home. A similar day of action in December involved Warm-Ups in locations including Scottish Power HQ, the British Museum, Harrods and a Barclays Bank. Fuel Poverty Action have released a number of meeting points and say to expect more of the same.

Actions will conclude on Sunday 22nd January with a demonstration taking place outside Octopus Energy Sales Hub in Birmingham. The groups are also calling on individuals to sign a petition calling for an end to forced prepayment meters and encouraging them to either phone or email Grant Shapps’ office demanding he implement a ban.

The week of action forms part of Fuel Poverty Action’s Energy For All campaign; the demand for a universal, free amount of energy to cover people’s necessities like heating, lighting and cooking - paid for by an end to all public money subsidising fossil fuels, a more effective windfall tax on energy companies and higher tariffs on luxury household energy use. The campaign also encompasses an end to prepayment meters and a national retrofitting scheme to bring housing up to standard.

Stuart Bretherton, Fuel Poverty Action, Energy For All Campaign Coordinator, said:


In the world’s sixth richest economy and one of Europe’s largest producers of oil and gas, failing to meet people’s basic energy needs is a political choice. Energy For All is a proposal for a system that works for people and the planet, not profiteers or polluters. The polar opposite of this is struggling people having their homes broken into, or meters switched remotely without warning, to a method of payment that could prevent them from heating their home this winter.


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