British Gas customers aired their disappointment on social media over being unable to top-up prepayment meters via online or the app on 27 February, allegedly due to a technical issue.
This issue follows the earlier controversy involving the Big Six supplier’s decision to cut its partnership with PayPoint to make an exclusive deal with the Post Office’s Payzone top-up terminals for prepayment meter (PPM) customers.
The energy industry watchdog Ofgem is currently looking into the issue by opening a compliance case into British Gas’ management of its prepayment scheme.
Issues with prepayment
British Gas acknowledge the technical glitch that happened on 27 February at around 4 pm to 10 pm, with PPM customers being unable to top-up using its app or online services. Their consumers took to social media to voice their frustration over the supplier.
The issue has since been resolved as confirmed by the Big Six supplier, and PPM customers can now access online or app payment channels to top-up their meters.
Before this issue, British Gas stirred the news when it revealed that it was ending its partnership with PayPoint, which provided the firm’s former prepayment service terminals. The announcement was made late in December and came into effect last 1 January 2020.
Additionally, the supplier was also criticised for increasing the minimum top-up amount from £1 to £5. However, it reverted to the £1 top-up value, saying it is continuously reviewing the needs of its customers.
In a statement made by PayPoint to shareholders, it indicated that the partnership was not renewed because both entities have failed to agree on the terms of the supposed multi-year contract.
PayPoint CEO Patrick Headon expressed disappointment over the failure of renewal. The firm expects the termination of its partnership with British Gas to affect net revenue by £1.4 million for 2019/20 and £3.5 million in the next year.
Energy watchdog Ofgem opened a compliance case over the British Gas matter to look into how the supplier handled the changes it has decided to implement regarding its prepayment scheme. These issues include increasing the top-up value minimum and switching provider.
Ofgem stated that the reports and feedback from dissatisfied customers prompted the investigation to understand the supplier’s recent decisions.
The regulator said it asked the Big Six supplier to explain the rationale for the changes they implemented, including the analysis of their actions’ impact on customers. It also aims to determine whether the energy provider has taken the right steps in the identification and management of the risks.
However, Ofgem reiterated that the case does not imply that British Gas has made any wrongdoing. It said the primary purpose is to find out if appropriate actions were created to manage the risks due to the significant operational changes they have implemented. Such decisions could have made a negative impact, especially to vulnerable customers, and Ofgem intends to find out.
In the letter addressed to the supplier, Ofgem indicated that there are rules that protect customer welfare, which ensures that every circumstance should be taken into account and deemed safe and practicable for all PPM customers.
The regulator further stated it would continue to monitor customer experience for prepayment meter users and engage with energy suppliers whenever a concern arises.
British Gas replies
A spokesperson for the energy supplier said prepayment customers need convenient access to their services, citing that Payzone has committed to establishing new top-up locations, particularly in rural areas. They also stated that the supplier is cooperating with the industry watchdog’s compliance case.
Additionally, British Gas explained the previous top-up value increase was made to keep its costs down so that they can offer PPM customers the best value. However, the energy firm has decided to reverse their minimum back to £1 after considering feedback from their customers, saying that they continue to look at options to help vulnerable consumers in need.