Following an investigative report from the Times, Utility Debt Collection Agency Arvato Financial Solutions as insisted they act in compliance with regulation
The Times report alleges that Arvato, while acting a utility debt collection agency for for British Gas, ignored the vulnerabilities of customers and forcibly entered homes to prepayment gas meters.
Energy companies have been asked to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters after the Times uncovered debt agents for British Gas breaking into vulnerable people’s homes to fit them.
In a statement, industry regulator Ofgem said firms must get their “house in order” and Jonathan Brearley, the regulator’s boss, stated that he would take “the strongest action in our powers” if necessary.
Prepayment meters require customers to pay for their energy in advance, rather than by direct debit. Though they are more expensive than other options, prepayment meters may be the only option for those who have difficulty paying and owe money to their supplier. They are designed to help avoid late payments.
Arvato Utility Debt Collection Agents
The investigation by The Times revealed how utility debt collection agents working for Arvato Financial Solutions (on behalf of British Gas) had forcibly entered a single father-of-three’s home to install a prepayment meter. One utility debt collection agency agent is reported to have called it “the exciting bit.”
Chris O’Shea, CEO at Centrica (the parent company of British Gas), expressed shock and horror upon hearing of the incident saying: “The contractor we’ve employed has let us down but I am accountable for this.” Meanwhile, Jonathan Brearley commented that it was “astonishing” that suppliers were unaware of contractors’ behavior while interacting with society’s most vulnerable members.
In response, British Gas has announced that forcefully installing prepayment meters will be suspended until at least after winter. Arvato Financial Solutions has yet to comment on the matter and British Gas reported that last year they had executed 20 000 prepayment installs with a warrant out of 1.5 million customers with pre-payment meters – making them the country’s largest supplier with 7.26 million customers in total.
Ofgem to investigate Debt Collectors
Energy regulator Ofgem has announced it will launch an investigation.
A spokesperson said: “These are extremely serious allegations from The Times which we will investigate urgently with British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.
“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.
“We recently announced a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it.
“We are clear that suppliers must work hard to look after their customers at this time, especially those who are vulnerable, and the energy crisis must not be an excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.”