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Discussions surrounding pre-payment meters have resurfaced within the energy industry following reports of forced entry into vulnerable customers’ homes to install the devices. These reports have initiated a review from national energy regulator Ofgem. Magistrates have since been ordered to stop the issue of warrants that allow forced entry, with energy companies agreeing to suspend all forced installations until Ofgem’s review concludes at the end of March 2023.

Traditional associations with pre-payment meters have included higher costs for customers and digital exclusion through cashless payments. Operators also have the ability to remotely shut off heat to properties if meters have not been topped up – leaving those most vulnerable customers at risk despite the enduring cost-of-living crisis.

Conversely, insight into successful operation and management of pre-payment meters within heat network offer opportunities for the wider industry. For customers on heat networks, pre-payment meters offer reductions of bad debt collections, allow remote switching between pre-payment and credit billing, and can provide modern in-home displays that act as a useful means of communication. If replacement costs are not passed onto customers, running costs for customers on pre-payment meters can also be equal to, or lower than credit billing. Alongside these advancements, the Heat Trust offer a voluntary consumer protection scheme that ensure operators fairly manage pre-payment meter billing. Unlike regulated systems, heat network operators do not have the right to seek warrants to install pre-payment meters. Therefore, when correctly managed and operated, pre-payment meters for heat network customers can act as a positive instrument for metering and billing.