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Magistrates must be sure of grounds before granting energy providers with entry warrants, says barrister

Following reports of forced entry by energy companies to fit prepayment meters to customers’ homes, Maria Mulla, a Business and Property barrister from No5 Barristers’ Chambers, reveals what should happen before companies can lawfully enter properties.

Maria says: “The legal guidance around gaining entry to customer homes as outlined in the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954 is limited in scope and offers little guidance on interpretation or application. For example, there is no automatic right for an affected customer to apply to the magistrates – whether to stay or adjourn the execution of a warrant.

“In order for a warrant to be granted by magistrates, they should be satisfied by the following reasoning:

  • That sworn information is before them to the effect that admission to premises specified in the information is reasonably required by a gas operator under the Act.
  • That the gas operator is entitled under the Act to exercise a right of entry to the premises in question, meaning there had been proper notice to the occupier of the premises in question, demand, and failure to pay in the absence of a genuine dispute.

“Only with this should the magistrates grant a warrant for non-consensual entry to premises. If a warrant has been granted and the energy supplier wishes to enforce promptly and enter the premises, the only option may be to obtain urgent injunctive relief, preventing the warrant from being executed.

“With the recent cases in the press, questions have been raised as to whether energy suppliers have been misrepresenting the facts to the magistrates in order to obtain a warrant. Whether true or not, it is up to the magistrates themselves to test the matter properly and not to simply treat the grant of a warrant as simply a ‘rubber stamping exercise’.

“Magistrates must carefully evaluate the evidence brought to them if a warrant is being issued and if a genuine dispute is raised the magistrates should grapple with the dispute and consider any documentary evidence and evidence on oath. The magistrates have an obligation to consider each of the requirements under the statute and be satisfied before a warrant may be issued.”

For more information, visit: the No5 website.

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