The Business Secretary has demanded energy suppliers stop forcing economically vulnerable households to switch to prepayment meters.
Grant Shapps has also vowed to “name and shame” the worst offenders.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it has written to companies asking them to voluntarily end the practice of forcibly moving households onto more expensive pre-paid energy tariffs.
Suppliers are clearly jumping the gun and offering at-risk customers the support they deserve before they are taken to the prepayment meter
Mr Shapps told them that energy companies should first do more to help people struggling to pay their bills, such as by offering loans or debt advice.
They also asked suppliers to disclose the number of warrant applications made for trespassing into properties to install meters.
Ministers have been urged to crack down on the forced fitting of prepayment meters, with labor pledging to take measures.
But the government is opposing such a ban because of concerns over a subsequent increase in bail action.
Mr Shapps said: “Suppliers are clearly taking a risk and taking prepayment meters before supporting at-risk customers – I do not believe that every possible option has been exhausted in all of these cases.
“I am deeply concerned to see reports of customers being switched to prepayment meters against their will, some disconnected from supply – and literally left in the dark.
“Rather than immediately reaching for a new way to extort money from customers, I wish suppliers would stop this practice and lend a more sympathetic ear, offering this kind of tolerance and support to a person struggling to pay.” The vulnerable client should have hope.”
It comes after hundreds of thousands of customers switched to more expensive prepayment meters, often reluctantly and without the offer of support, after failing to keep up with rising energy payments.
Some have found their smart meters remotely switched into prepayment mode, while others have been confronted on their doorsteps by teams sent by energy companies – armed with magistrates’ court warrants – to make physical changes .
Campaigners say those who switch often go without power because they cannot afford to keep the meter topped up – a phenomenon known as “self-disconnection”.
This comes after massive inflation and a spike in energy bills due to the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Citizens Advice welcomed the government’s call for energy suppliers to stop forcing people onto prepayment meters.
Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy, said: “It is now up to the suppliers to do the right thing and end this practice. If they don’t, the government must take strong action. It is also important that there are already Bring in more safeguards for people using prepayment meters.”
(tags to translate) grant shops