Government and Ofgem provide thriving trade for loan sharks

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has accused Ofgem and the government of creating a “booming business” for loan sharks after the scandal over energy meter prepayments came to light.

Mr Brown accused the regulator’s director, Jonathan Brearley, of “sadly” failing to protect vulnerable customers after it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of impoverished Britons had been forced to switch to expensive prepayment meters, leaving some of them in the hands of illegal lenders were pushed. .

The scandal exposed by The Times revealed that British Gas routinely sent debt collectors to break into customers’ homes and install forced reversal meters, even when they were known to have extreme vulnerabilities.

In response to these revelations, Mr Brown said the Ofgem boss should “consider his position” after he had “failed to fulfill his responsibilities to energy customers”.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaking at an event in December 2022

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused Ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley of ‘unfortunate’ failure to protect vulnerable customers (Jane Barlow/PA)

Writing in The Independent, the former Labor leader credited both the energy regulator and government for making “harsh and callous policy decisions” and “failing to defend low-income families against the indefensible”.

“(Mr.) Brearley’s official responsibility… is to ‘protect energy customers by ensuring they are treated fairly’… (and to) ‘eradicate sharp and bad practices’,” said Mr. Brown.

“So (Mr.) Brearley – and the now restructured energy department – ​​should immediately explain why, instead of standing on the side of the public, they have failed miserably to properly monitor and expose utilities and their debt brokers, who in the midst of the worst cost-of-living crisis in 50 years, have broken into the homes of impoverished customers.”

The former prime minister said Ofgem was “not alone in its failure to defend low-income families against the indefensible”, accusing the government and its agencies of “harsh and callous policy decisions” that “turned illicit money lending into the biggest booming Britain’s venture among low-income communities”.

File photo dated 19/09/13 of a person using a central heating thermostat

A recent Times investigation revealed that British Gas routinely sends collection agencies to break into customers’ homes and install forced reversal meters, even when they are known to have extreme vulnerabilities (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Brown said he had learned through his work with local charities that prepayment meter users had to spend “a lot more” for each unit of their energy, adding that “at least” 20% of them had been unable to get the money or get the coupons they were promised.

“This failure to act creates an even more serious social emergency for struggling families: They are pushed further into debt and, most worryingly, into the hands of illegal lenders,” he said, describing the bedroom tax, listed the rule for two children. and other ceilings and taxes that had worsened the financial situation of low-income households.

“Ministers are leaving families unable to meet the cost of their weekly food bill, without resorting to borrowing wherever they can find money.

“The welfare state safety net is now full of holes – and instead of being the last line of defense for those in need, our own Social Security Department is forcing families into increasingly desperate measures.”

A homeowner turns down the temperature of a gas boiler in Basingstoke, Hampshire

The former Labor leader said ‘our own Social Security Department’ was forcing families into increasingly desperate measures’ (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He added: “There is blood in the water and loan sharks circling.

“A record number of families are now so deeply indebted that they are turning to the lender at the door and the lender outside the cheap shops, pub and betting shop. And what’s even more worrying is that as illegal money lending moves online, the desperate are even more at risk as long as these social media platforms remain free of proper scrutiny.

Mr Brown’s comments follow the senior presiding judge of England and Wales telling magistrates to stop processing applications from energy companies to enter homes to install prepayment meters.

Ofgem has already asked energy suppliers to suspend activity.

Meanwhile, Paypoint revealed that about one in five people failed to redeem the £66 energy support voucher they were given by the company in November under a government support scheme

Of the hundreds of thousands of vouchers sent out, only about 81% had been redeemed by Sunday when they ran out – 90 days after they were issued.

Thousands of households with prepayment meters are therefore missing out on the energy bill they were entitled to.

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