Prepayment meters are used by around 11 million households in the UK. They are used for gas and electricity, allowing you to pay for these utilities on a pay-as-you-go basis. Meters are topped up using a key or card which can be credited at the likes of newsagents, Post Offices, petrol garages and occasionally online. Paying for your energy on this basis is not always the cheapest. This guide will talk you through how prepayment meters work and how you can save money if you have one.
As a general rule, customers on a pre-payment meter pay more for their energy per unit than a standard customer. Plus, they don’t usually have access to the best deals. However, with different energy companies charging different rates to their pre-payment customers, it may be worth shopping around to find the best deal for you. You can choose from fixed or variable tariffs:
These tariffs fix the price of energy per unit for a set amount of time. The thing to watch out for is exit fees if you decide to leave early. Scottish Power and EDF Energy are amongst those who provide fixed tariffs to pre-pay users.
Prices on these tariffs are not fixed and can go up or down accordingly. Sainsbury’s and Ovo Energy are amongst the providers who can issue pre-pay customers this type of tariff.
Comparing Prepay Tariffs
You are able to switch and save money with pre-paid meters. You should be aware that using comparison sites won’t always get you the best deal- some sites only show energy providers who will give them commission if you switch to them. Sometimes, energy companies also save their best tariffs for customers who come to them directly.
If you have less than £500 debt per fuel, you can switch providers, but the debt will follow you.
Switching as a tenant
If you rent your home, you can still save money by switching. Refer to your tenancy agreement to see what it says about switching providers, but some advice websites state that even if your contract prohibits it, guidance from Ofgem maintains you CAN switch as long as you’re the one who pays the energy bill. If you move into a new house and you want to know who your energy supplier is, check with your landlord.
Changing to a standard meter
The cheapest energy tariffs are available for customers with standard meters. These meters measure your usage and then you receive a bill or Direct Debit afterwards, rather than paying in advance. Here are some things to bear in mind before switching to a standard meter:
- You may be credit checked.
- Installing a new meter may cost.
- If you change your supplier, you may have to pay for the meter.
- It’s easier to get into fuel debt with this type of meter.
If you still think a standard meter is right for you, here is what some of the big providers do when you enquire about changing to a standard meter.
- British Gas: The cost of the meter is free. You must pass an account and credit check. You cannot be in debt, or have had a debt at your current/previous address in the last year. You also can’t have credit of over £50. You don’t have to stay with the supplier, or pay if you change supplier after your meter is installed.
- nPower: The switch can be free, but could also cost £120 for both fuels. When you enquire, your account history is reviewed to ensure that you don’t build up any debt.
- Scottish Power: Costs £62.90 for gas and £45.91 for electricity. Your account history will be reviewed, a credit check will take place and you may be asked for a deposit.
- SSE: With this supplier, a standard meter costs £110 for both fuels. You must agree to set up a Direct Debit and have a credit check.
- EDF energy: Meter is free of charge. All you have to do is pay any outstanding debt.
- E.on: The meter is free, you must pass a credit check.
Is it worth it?
As a general rule, if you will live in the property for more than two years and you’re not struggling financially, a standard meter can be worth getting. To compare, the cheapest prepayment tariff costs around £1,170 per year. The cheapest tariff for credit meters is £870 per year, so a saving of £300.
What to do once you have switched over:
When you switch over, ensure that you:
- Are on the cheapest tariff available.
- Read your meter each time you receive a bill.
- Check to see if paying by Direct Debit is cheaper.
- Speak to your provider if you are struggling to pay.
Using your prepay meter in the best way:
You can make savings just by using your prepayment meter in the right ways.
Use less energy
- Turn down the temperature and wear layers around the house.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
- Use energy saving light bulbs.
- Defrost your fridge/freezer.
- Don’t leave electrical goods on standby.
Don’t use emergency credit too often
Most providers issue up to £10 of emergency credit after your top up runs out. However, when you dip into this, the company does not charge the standing charge (a fixed charge that you pay daily just to be connected), so the next time you top up, you have to catch up which can throw your budget out.
If you go on holiday, make sure you top up enough
If you go away, you need to leave enough credit on your meter to cover the daily standing charge as well as any usage. Otherwise, your credit may run out, appliances will switch off and you will come home to a freezer full of spoiled food!
Tell your supplier immediately if you move house
If you move into a house that has a pre-payment meter, tell the current supplier immediately and never use the old tenant’s top up card, otherwise you may end up paying someone else’s debt just to get a supply. Under a code of conduct, the supplier must reset the meter as soon as they can.
Ignore any doorstep sellers
There have been scams where doorstep sellers offer top up cards for a discounted price, only for them to not work.
Top up in advance of price hikes
This will depend on your provider, but in the case of one supplier, the last time prices rose, the price charged by the meter did not increase until the first time you topped up after the hike. Anything before that was charged at the old rate.
Keep your card close to your chest!
Your supplier will charge around £10 for a replacement card, so look after it!
To get more information on pre-payment meters, contact your supplier:
British Gas Customer Service Contact Number
Scottish Gas Customer Service Contact Number
EDF Customer Services
Eon Contact Number