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An energy meter is a vital part of any household’s infrastructure, helping to generate accurate readings and bills. However, they are not always easily accessible and this can cause inconvenience or in some circumstances pose a danger to tenants’ lives.

In late 2022, the sad news of elderly tenant Bernadette Faulkner passing away following her attempt to top up her energy meter highlighted issues regarding the placement of prepayment energy meters.

Eighty year-old Bernadette Faulkner was an elderly tenant living in a London council flat. Her electricity meter was located approximately 8 feet up in a cupboard that was located within the building’s communal entranceway.

She had to attempt to reach her meter using a step ladder. This had happened each time she needed to top up her prepayment meter. However, in December 2022, she sadly fell and sustained injuries which would lead to her death several days later.

As this article will explore, there’s a need for agents to signpost tenants who require support to information or resources, even if it isn’t a legal requirement. Read on to see the findings of a Prevention of Future Deaths report that concerned this tragedy, and the relevance of Ofgem’s new code of practice that governs where prepayment energy meters should be installed.

Words from the report regarding best practice

The circumstances of this tragedy, specifically where the meter was installed, were criticised by coroner Ian Potter who has produced a prevention of future deaths report. Potter’s issuing of a report like this, which do not happen often, shows the strength of his feeling towards suppliers fitting their energy meters in such locations.

Future deaths could occur

In the report, Potter commented: “In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances, it is my statutory duty to report to you”.

He continued to state that the meter’s location “(immediately behind an inwardly opening front door with no windows) added to the risk of using a stepladder because anyone coming through the door would be entirely unable to see anyone using a stepladder behind the door”.

The Prevention of Future Deaths report also made the point that all electricity meters should be reachable by ordinary people and not only those trained to work at heights. He then highlighted how the positioning of the prepayment meter “adds to the risk, because those choosing to use a prepayment meter are required to access it each and every time they top-up”.

As a pensioner, Faulkner had to regularly use steps to reach this meter 8 feet up, to keep her home powered. Subsequently, the report covering the death of Bernadette Faulkner has been presented to Energy UK and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety. Both parties have agreed to work closely with the energy industry to protect others from facing a similar tragedy.

Inconsistent standards with energy meter fitting

Potter also took the time to examine the thought and current lack of industry standards towards where electricity meters are installed. Noting that the electricity company which installed the meter back in 2001 has “no records of what consideration they gave at the point of installation to the specific meter location”, it reflects the current inconsistencies seen across the country. This is where letting agents can play a significant part in offering guidance to tenants as we’ll now explore.

The role of letting agents

As PropertyMark notes, whilst “Property agents do not have any formal responsibility regarding the location of energy meters … it is sensible to know where to signpost tenants who need support, information or resources”.

For example, a letting agent could direct a vulnerable tenant to contact their energy supplier if they cannot access their energy meters. Understanding topics like this will only help property professionals deliver a better service and meet their customer service guidelines.

Energy suppliers have to listen to concerned customers and it is often possible to relocate a difficult-to-access meter should a tenant raise concerns. They should never attempt to move the meter themselves however, as this is illegal. Rather, the gas or electricity supplier must consider the individual customer’s worries and make a decision regarding what appropriate action to take.

How else can property agents advise tenants?

Numerous organisations and industry bodies are geared towards solving the problem of inaccessible energy meters. And knowing where to direct tenants can improve the quality and safety of fuelling their homes.

Citizens Advice and the Priority Services Register

Citizens Advice has covered this topic and advises the public to contact their supplier if their meter is outside, in a different building, above head height or located in a locked communal cupboard. Many tenants may worry that they’ll have to fit the bill for their energy meter’s relocation, which is a possibility.

However, for customers on the Priority Services Register (PSR), their energy provider should provide this work at no cost. Persons eligible for the PSR include those of State Pension age, disabled or living with a long-term health condition, or anyone considered ‘vulnerable’ by their energy suppliers. Tenants can check if they’re eligible for free PSR services on the official website.

Ofgem’s new code of practice

The year 2023 saw the introduction of a new code of practice by Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator. As reported by The Standard newspaper, the independent body now specifies that prepayment meters should only be used where it is “safe and practical” to do so.

The meter should be easy to access for the person living there. For tenants over 75 years old, Ofgem has outlawed all energy suppliers “forcibly installing prepayment meters” and this has been accompanied by its ruling that the supplier must first visit a property.

Whilst this sounds promising for energy meter best practice, there is a caveat. Ofgem’s 2023 guidance applies to new meters generally. Yet, it may still be possible to request a newly located and accessible energy meter (at no cost) if they’re classed as a vulnerable customer. View Ofgem’s Prepayment meters consumer guidance to learn more.

If however, a tenant complains of a poor experience in this area, property agents can point them in the direction of the Energy Ombudsman, who is experienced at dealing with such matters. A dispute can often be resolved in the first stage by visiting its Resolve Energy Disputes website.

Whilst once more, there is no legal obligation for property or letting agents as regards energy meters, providing sources of reputable advice for tenants can only be viewed as a positive move for everyone and the industry.

An expert’s perspective

Speaking on the social platform Linkedin, Inventory Base’s Operations Director Sián Hemming-Metcalfe wrote about the sad passing of Bernadette Faulkner. She stated that the incident “serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of adhering to safety protocols for agents and inventory professionals when in the property”.

“We’ve all come across meters that are difficult to access due to their position/height yet I still hear of clerks being expected to go climbing, using unsafe/unsupported ladders or on worktops and cupboards to get readings”, she said.

One proposed solution, and perhaps the most simplest, is to state the location of meters, taking photographic evidence and feeding back to the responsible person issues of safety and access.

Sián calls this “a vital service, not just for utility management but also to ensure that tenants are protected and the property safe.” Those letting agencies that continue to offer support towards energy meter best practice, will surely stand out from their competitors.

Document meter locations with Inventory Base

Whether you own or manage one property or an entire portfolio, the inventory reporting tools and templates we provide can help you ensure that the tenant knows exactly where their energy meter(s) are, creating a record that can be distributed and referred at any time, anywhere.

Book a demo to learn more about Inventory Base.