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Energy suppliers reject new customers amid crisis in market

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Sarah Greaves*, a single mother who has spent the last six months renovating a home near Stroud, was left facing a winter without proper heating because no energy supplier was prepared to take her on as a customer and install a meter.

Over the last few months the UK energy market has seized up. Spiralling wholesale gas prices have led to the demise of 21 energy suppliers – two failed this week – and about 2 million customers having to be switched to a new supplier appointed by the energy regulator, Ofgem.

For most of those affected, it has been a story of big price increases as they have found themselves switched to a price-capped tariff. However, a new problem has emerged that could affect anyone connecting a home to the grid for the first time: suppliers are refusing to take on new customers in case they end up making a loss.

View image in fullscreenTwenty-one energy suppliers have gone bust as soaring wholesale gas prices hit the UK’s energy market. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

As part of the plan to modernise her home, Greaves asked builders to rip out the old, inefficient electric storage heaters and replace them with gas central heating. While the house is set to be connected to the mains at the beginning of December – with most of the building work finished about the same time – she says there is no prospect of having a working gas supply any time soon.

“To my horror, I’ve discovered that no suppliers or independent installers are installing gas meters at the moment,” she told Guardian Money. “They are all blaming the current situation in the market and refusing to take us on as a customer. My daughter and I are supposed to be moving in when the work’s finished but I have no idea how we are expected to heat the place this winter, if no company will supply us with gas.”

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She says she first approached SSE, which already supplies the property’s electricity, but was told that it was not currently taking on new customers because of the “strain the fuel market is under”. Since then she has approached British Gas, Ecotricity, E.ON, EDF, Octopus and two smaller suppliers, which have all refused.

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E.ON told her via Twitter that it had taken the difficult decision to “pause new connections due to the market conditions”.

Wales & West Utilities, the company responsible for connecting the property to the gas network, told her it could not intervene as only her supplier could install the meter.

“I can’t be the only person in this position – lots of people renovate old homes and put in modern heating – but there appears to be no solution,” she said. “We will have no hot water and are going to have to use portable electric heaters during the coldest time of the year. Surely there is some obligation on firms to connect customers who need heating?”

After Guardian Money’s intervention, SSE, which is now part of Ovo, told Greaves that it will now connect her home, and install the meter on 10 December. It is also reviewing why her request was not escalated to the correct team internally, and the messages she was sent.

An Ofgem spokesperson says suppliers are obliged to take on customers when requested: “We’ve been clear that suppliers must comply with licence conditions despite the challenging market situation.

“Suppliers must offer to supply a domestic household once approached by a customer, including where this necessitates the installation of a meter to enable supply. If supplier actions leave consumers at risk of going off supply, and where we have evidence that this is the case, we will take action.”

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* Not her real name