Energy supplier Ovo has halted forced prepayment meter (PPM) installations over Christmas to help customers through the cost-of-living crisis.
The move will mean customers who have fallen into debt on a credit meter and face having their supplier install a pay as you go replacement will have respite over the Christmas period.
Ovo said the measure, which is already in place, will last until December 31.
It comes as campaigners have been calling for an immediate ban on compulsory PPM installations, which are made under court warrants.
PPMs require regular top-ups and charge at a higher rate, which means customers who are already in debt may struggle to keep up with payments.
This has prompted concerns for vulnerable people self-disconnecting – going off supply in their homes due to lack of credit over winter, especially amid the energy crisis.
In a statement on Thursday, an Ovo spokesperson said: “To support our customers over the Christmas period we have paused all mode switching to ensure that we take every reasonable step to contact and support our customers.”
In a letter to campaigners seen by the PA news agency, Raman Bhatia, Ovo Energy’s chief executive, wrote that pausing PPM transfers is the latest in a series of measures it has introduced to help customers this year, including a debt recovery holiday for PPM pay as you go customers until at least March 2023.
Mr Bhatia wrote: “I would like to reassure you that we understand the critical role and responsibility that we have in supporting and protecting consumers this winter and beyond.”
He said Ovo “will not disconnect any household for non-payment throughout winter” but stopped short of committing to a longer-term ban on forced PPM installations.
“Unfortunately we are unable to commit to ending all customer transfers to PPMs for the entire winter period because we believe that it would be irresponsible of us as a business to leave any arrears unaddressed and allow them to build up into an unmanageable amount, given the critical role and responsibility that we have to support and protect our consumers this winter and beyond,” he said.
“As such, we consider mode-switching to be a meaningful intervention provided that best practice is followed and customer vulnerability is assessed at every stage of the process.”
On PPM customers self-disconnecting, Mr Bhatia said: “We proactively reach out to those who we believe might be in this situation – our goal is to establish whether a PPM is suitable and safe for them, and provide them with any other support they may need, including making them aware of the Ovo customer support package.”
Campaign groups welcomed Ovo’s move to halt compulsory transfers but also urged all suppliers to act and continued to call on the Government to ban them completely.
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “Even the energy firms are now waking up to the reality that prepayment meter customers are struggling in cold, damp homes this winter.
“Research for the Warm This Winter campaign has shown that these customers are likely to be vulnerable or have health conditions made worse by being unable to stay warm. Many will have been forced on to a prepayment meter against their will.
“The Government must act urgently to ban any further forced installations of prepayment meters either by court warrant or by smart meter.”
Matthew McGregor, chief executive at 38 Degrees, said: “By pledging not to push anyone into prepayment over the Christmas period, Ovo is demonstrating they know just how damaging it is.
“Whilst it may be good news that struggling families won’t wake up to a prepayment meter on December 25, they could still be facing disconnection by the backdoor come January.
“Every single time these multibillion-pound companies push a prepayment meter on to someone who is struggling, they’re risking another customer facing the stark choice between feeding the meter and feeding their family.
“But they have the chance to do the right thing: put people before profit by committing to end all forced transfer to prepayment.”