Campaigners and politicians have warned that new Ofgem rules for energy suppliers which restrict the forced installation of prepayment meters don't go far enough.

SNP MP Anne Mclaughlin called Ofgem’s plans a “complete abdication of responsibility” as she called on the Tory government to take over so that exceptions cover all vulnerable people.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition added that the plans “fail to deal” with concerns over energy debt relief “for those most in need”.

READ MORE: SNP MP calls for overhaul of prepayment meter system

On Tuesday, energy watchdog Ofgem revealed that household suppliers in Scotland, England and Wales have agreed to a new code of practice which includes a ban on forcibly installing prepayment meters (PPMs) in the homes of people over the age of 85.

Energy firms will now only be able to force-fit prepayment meters if they stick to a set of voluntary restrictions.

PPMs have been in the spotlight after some energy suppliers, including Scottish Power, were caught breaking into the homes of people struggling to pay their bills to forcibly install them.

The tougher rules also mean that energy suppliers and their contractors must make at least 10 attempts to contact a customer and carry out a site welfare visit before a PPM can be installed.

Suppliers will also need to avoid forced installations where a “continuous supply” of energy is needed for health reasons, such as for the terminally ill.

Energy firms will also be required to make representatives fitting meters wear body cameras or audio equipment.

The National:

Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “Ofgem’s new voluntary code of practice is a minimum standard that clearly sets out steps all suppliers must take before moving to a PPM.

“If and when involuntary PPMs are used, it must be as a last resort, and customers in vulnerable situations will be given the extra care and consideration they deserve, over and above the rules already in place, by suppliers – something that has clearly not always been happening.”

The new rules are a voluntary code of practice for suppliers and the regulator said it will consult on whether the voluntary code of practice can be made legally binding ahead of the next winter.

Suppliers will also now need to place £30 worth of credit on any meter they install with a warrant.

Cases must also be reassessed by suppliers once a customer has repaid debts owed.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps welcomed the announcement and called on Ofgem and suppliers to “put these words into action, so struggling families never again face such mistreatment”.

Labour, meanwhile, accused the Government of breaking a promise to protect vulnerable energy customers and called for a ban on the forced installation of prepayment meters to be in place while the issue is addressed.

Addressing the issue in the Commons, shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband said: “The new rules only ban forced installations for a very narrow group, and does not do so for what it calls medium-risk groups.

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"And I’m reading from their document here: that includes those with Alzheimer’s, clinical depression, learning difficulties, multiple sclerosis, the elderly up to age 85, the recently bereaved and those with the youngest children.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, raised concerns that the new rules will not address financial concerns.

“There are really vulnerable groups which have been omitted from its full protection and we have serious concerns about how it will be implemented, such as how people will prove their medical conditions without being humiliated by an energy firm health inspection,” he said.

“The plans also fail to deal with the elephant in the room – the growing household energy debt mountain.

“This was the Government’s opportunity to take meaningful action and introduce targeted debt relief for those most in need.

“It has failed to do so and seems to have given in to energy industry demands to let them go back to the bad old days of forcing prepayment meters on to customers in distress.”

Anne McLaughlin, SNP MP for Glasgow North East, said she was tired of welcoming “baby steps” on the prepayment meters issue.

She added: "So I'm not going to welcome this. Instead I'm going to call it out for what it is, a complete abdication of responsibility.

“Ofgem had the chance to make a material difference to the lives of every vulnerable person in the UK but they chose not to.

“So if you're 84 or 83 or 82; if you're a baby, 3 years old, 8 years old; if you've got dementia or Parkinsons, it's up to the energy suppliers to decide if it's okay to force a prepayment meter on you.

“But even the so-called ban on forcing these meters on anyone aged 85 and above is not enforceable.

“Ofgem say the energy suppliers have their reputations to think of but, with a few exceptions, that is far less important to them than profit.

“The government has got to take this over and come up with a list of exceptions that covers all vulnerable people and they've got to make it enforceable through licence conditions or legislation.

“The SNP is ready to support them on that but I won't be holding my breath.”

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell similarly said that the new guidelines simply don't go nearly far enough. He added: "These guidelines may be an improvement, but they do not go anywhere near far enough.

"They are only voluntary and they leave out a lot of vulnerable groups who are disproportionately impacted by these kinds of actions. 

"The footage that has emerged of energy suppliers breaking into vulnerable people's homes was totally inappropriate and shameful. These practices must never be repeated."

MP Kenny MacAskill, Fair energy prices campaigner and ALBA Depute Leader said: “It is unacceptable that people who can least afford the cost of sky rocketing energy bills are being penalised by energy companies who are recording record breaking profits.

“But it is not enough to expect power companies to voluntarily cease the practice of forced installation of pre-payment meters. 

"The UK Government must instruct Ofgem to take the necessary action to end this injustice forthwith.  If the energy companies will not act then Ofgem must intervene to make this ban mandatory rather than voluntary.

“The energy companies must be held to account for this disgraceful practice.  I am therefore calling on the UK Government to demand that the energy companies release the supplier data on the number of warrant applications they have made to forcibly enter homes to install meters.”