With a prepayment energy meter, as the name suggests, you pay for your gas and electricity upfront, rather than afterwards.
In some cases, you can put money directly into the meter, or you might use tokens, or more commonly, a Smartcard, which you can top up with money at your local Post Office, PayPoint or Payzone.
Prepayment meters are often found in rental properties, as they offer landlords security that their tenants won't fall into arrears with their gas and electricity bills.
You may also have one installed in your home if you have struggled to meet costs previously, which has caused you to run into financial difficulties with your supplier.
If you are in debt to them, they may want you to have a repayment meter to ensure you pay off what you owe. This means that your gas and electricity will be charged at a higher rate per unit so you clear your debt at the same time as paying for your current energy usage.
You don't usually need to take a meter reading from your prepayment meter, as your energy supplier generally receives a reading automatically once your key or card is charged and inserted into the meter.
If, however, you are closing your account and want to take a reading, then locate the blue button on the front of your smart meter. Once you press this, it should switch from showing how much credit you have left, to your current meter reading.
Advantages and disadvantages of prepayment meters
Having a prepayment meter can make it easier to budget more effectively. It is harder to get into debt because you have to pay for your energy upfront rather than waiting for a bill to arrive.
However, as you have to pay for your gas and electricity in advance, if you aren't able to buy a top-up in time, you could find yourself with your supply switched off.
Costs also tend to be higher than with a standard meter, and the best tariffs aren't often available to customers with prepayment meters.
Can I switch to a standard meter?
You will need to check with your supplier to see if you can move from a prepayment meter to a standard meter. They are likely to impose a charge to move you to a standard meter and if you have failed to meet payments to them in the past, they will usually only consent to this if you have been debt-free for at least a few months.
If you are a tenant, then you will need to ask your landlord about switching to a standard meter. You will not be able to arrange this without their permission.
Once you have moved to a standard meter, you can compare gas and electricity tariffs online through MoneySupermarket's energy channel to find the best deals.
If you cannot switch from a prepayment meter, then you may still be able to find a better prepayment tariff, so again you should use the channel to compare prices and switch to the cheapest available deal.