AN SNP MP has warned the “whole system” of prepayment meters needs to change in the wake of the scandal over forced installations of the pay-as-you-go devices.

Anne McLaughlin, who represents Glasgow North East, said it was “outrageous” people who had to rely on meters had to face paying higher prices for their energy.

She made the call following revelations that agents for British Gas had broken into vulnerable people’s homes to fit meters, which prompted a major outcry. The company has apologised for the behaviour.

But the MP said she had also heard of “shoddy practices” in other parts of the industry, including people being told they had to pay debt on “inherited” meters, even though it is illegal.

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After the details over the forced installation of meters emerged, regulator Ofgem ordered all domestic energy companies to suspend the system of forcibly installing prepayment meters and said firms must get their “house in order”.

McLaughlin told the Sunday National there were wider issues with prepayment meters which also had to be addressed.

“People are still paying more in standing charges, they’re still paying more per unit of energy – what are they going do about that?” she said.

“The whole system needs to change. It’s outrageous when you consider how energy-rich we are especially in Scotland.”

In a question to the Prime Minister in the Commons last week, McLaughlin highlighted that most people on meters are on very low incomes.

She went on: “Yet they pay more per unit of energy than the Prime Minister, they pay higher daily standing charges than the Prime Minister, and they are automatically disconnected from their energy supply the second they run out of money.”

In response, Rishi Sunak said energy suppliers are being spoken to “to make sure that they treat customers with the respect and flexibility that they deserve” and that Ofgem has announced a review into supplier practices in relation to prepayment meters.

McLaughlin also said she had heard of cases where people who had inherited prepayment meters were also inheriting debt, even though it should not be happening.

“I’ve got somebody at the moment who told me about it, but she’s so scared to upset her power company that she won’t let me speak to them,” she said.

“She inherited somebody’s meter, it had a couple of hundred pounds of debt on it and she said, I can’t pay that – but they said no you need to pay or the meter won’t work.

“That’s incorrect information, but because it’s a prepayment meter she just had to put the money in to pay it so she is now constantly playing catch up and regularly just having to switch everything off and she’s regularly disconnected.

“That’s not something that the government needs to change or Ofgem needs to change as that already is against the law.”

McLaughlin launched an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prepayment Meters last week to look at solutions to the issues around the meters.

She has also twice brought a private member’s bill to the Commons that would require energy companies to allow a grace period before disconnecting customers on prepayment meters who have run out of credit.

She said the aim of the Ten Minute Bill, which will be put forward again for a second reading in March, was to ramp up pressure on the UK Government, describing the response from ministers so far as “wishy-washy”.

She added: “They have got Ofgem to do a review of the way in which companies are dealing with prepayment meters – that review will be ready by the summer when the sun is probably going to shine occasionally and people are not absolutely freezing to death. It’s not fast enough.

“We’ve been going on about this since September – we warned that it’s obvious because the cost of energy shooting up and people’s other costs are shooting up, people are far more likely to be really struggling on prepayment meters.”

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The launch of the APPG was attended by groups including Fuel Poverty Action, which pointed out that domestic water customers have been protected from being cut off due to unaffordability and debt since 1999.

Author Kerry Hudson, whose latest novel Lowborn tells of her experiences of growing up in poverty, also addressed the meeting, saying she had experienced first-hand how “degrading and entirely unnecessary” prepayment meters can be.

She said: “What I try to communicate when I talk about having a prepayment meter – especially when I write about it – is the absolute feeling of panic and then the feeling of degradation and shame.

“It is those two things that are so wearing.”

She added: “There is a stigma attached to it because it does have a certain punitive quality to it – you are being punished, they are machines that are effectively there to punish you.”