Prepayment meters – also known as ‘pay-as-you-go’ meters – are a common way to pay your energy bills. You need a meter installed in your house, which you top up with credit bought at a local shop or online, usually with a key or a card.
They’re a unique way to pay because you buy your energy in units before you use it. This means you know exactly how much energy you have available to you, and when you’re going to run out.
With the introduction of smart prepayment meters, it’s now much easier to top up via an app on your phone or online. You can also move any excess credit you have in gas to electricity – or vice versa.
Because you buy your allowance beforehand, you stay in total control of what you use
Most energy bills are calculated on expected usage and estimated readings – prepaid meters aren’t
Unless you’re in arrears to your supplier, you are can make the switch away from a meter whenever you like
Prepayment meters are usually more expensive per unit of energy than most other tariffs
You can sometimes run out of credit at inconvenient times, or when the shops are shut
Once you get to the end of your current credit allowance, your energy is shut off until you can buy more
There currently aren't any energy deals to switch you too.
But when tariffs are available, switching is easier than you think, thanks to the government’s Energy Switch Guarantee. Here’s how it works:
Tell us who your supplier is, what tariff you’re on and your estimated average usage. If you don’t know how much energy you use, our tool will estimate for you.
We’ll use these details to show you which suppliers and tariffs are currently on the market. Just pick the one you like.
Once you confirm your choice, enter your Direct Debit details and meter readings so your current supplier can send you an accurate final bill.
Switching is simple: there’s no rewiring or work outside your property, and service won’t be interrupted. If you chose to fast track your switch, you should be with your new supplier in five working days. Otherwise, you can probably expect the switch to be complete 15 days after filling out the switching form on MoneySuperMarket.
If you’re in credit when you switch, the money should be refunded automatically, but it’s worth checking. Likewise, keep an eye out for any final bills you owe.
You can change your mind and cancel the switch up to 14 days after getting the ball rolling. Get in touch with your new supplier if you do want to cancel.
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Sometimes prepayment customers are charged more for each unit of energy than people on standard credit meters.
The current price cap for pre-pay customers was set in February 2022 and stands at £2,017.
After Ofcom reviewed the market, this was due to rise to £3,608 from October 2022.
However, in September 2022 the government introduced the Energy Price Guarantee, which will supersede the price cap and will mean pre-payment households will pay significantly less. We don't know exactly how much less at the moment, but we'll update the information here when this becomes apparent.
Run an energy comparison now and we'll do our best to find you a tariff - or enter your email and we'll be in touch when one becomes available.
Some people are able to top-up their gas and electricity key online, but in most cases you will need do it in person. You can load money onto your prepaid keys and cards at the Post Office or at a shop with a PayPoint or a PayZone machine.
Once you’ve added a new balance, you simply insert the card or key into the meter and the money gets topped-up. Some suppliers will give you emergency credit for when you run out of balance, but this will need to be repaid. And if you don’t top-up your key or card, you risk losing power to your home.
If your prepaid key or card is lost or damaged, you should contact your energy supplier immediately. They will be able to sort a replacement – sometimes you can collect one from your local charge point while you wait for your new one to arrive – but you may be charged for any new cards or keys.
Smart meters can be set to prepayment mode or credit mode, so if you are a prepayment customer and you have had a new smart meter installed, the good news is that you can top up on an app or online.
If you rent, you need to seek permission from your landlord before you can remove a prepaid meter. Once you’re sure you want to change to a credit tariff, there are a few ways you can request the removal of one – but be warned that you may incur a fee, because suppliers may pass the cost on to you.
If you find a new supplier you want to switch to, you can ask them to remove the prepaid meter for free. Some energy companies will do this, but others will charge. If you want to stay with your existing provider, you may be able to negotiate the removal of the prepayment meter if you switch to one of their other plans.
If you’re in debt with an energy supplier, they may install a prepayment meter to manage the arrears. This is done to help you pay off the debt in small amounts, rather than lump sums, as well as paying upfront for the energy you use.
Forced prepayment meters are meant to be used as a last resort, as the prepayment tariffs can be more expensive, but some companies opt for it over traditional payment plans because those can be defaulted on.
We help you compare prices from a wide range of energy suppliers, so you can find the right deal for your needs.
It only takes a few minutes to compare tariffs and see what's out there. All you have to do is answer some simple questions, and we'll show you tariffs and offers from household-name energy companies.
We can help you switch to tariffs from most companies directly through MoneySuperMarket. Just click the green button, answer a few more questions, and you’re done.
If you’d prefer to talk to someone, you can call us on 0800 177 7087. We can answer any questions you might have, and even switch you to a new deal over the phone.
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