*30% of consumers that applied to switch via MoneySuperMarket saved at least £306.38, March-December 2020. Excludes NI, CI & IOM.
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
It’s much easier than you might think to switch energy suppliers, thanks to the government's Energy Switch Guarantee. Here’s how the switching process works:
You 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 that are currently on the market can save you the most money. You just have to pick the one you like
Once you confirm your choice, you’ll be asked for 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. It should complete within 21 days
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. In fact, the cheapest prepaid tariffs (£1,052, according to Ofgem) was found to be over £200 more expensive than the cheapest direct debit tariff (£846) in August 2019.*
Being on a prepaid meter also means you’ll miss out on the best offers, such as fixed rate tariff deals. However, increased competition is leading to more competitive pricing, and the introduction of a temporary price cap is saving customers around £300 million on their bills, according to the CMA.
The current price cap was set in July 2020 and stands at £1,042. The caps are reviewed every six months and will next be updated in February 2021. The dominant energy providers charge just a pound or two less than the cap, while others charge under £1,000 for the year on average – it depends on which supplier you are with.
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.
You could save hundreds of pounds by switching your gas and electricity to a cheaper tariff through MoneySuperMarket.
We help you compare prices from all the energy suppliers in the UK, so you can find the cheapest deals in the market.
It only takes a few minutes to find a cheaper energy deal. All you have to do is answer some simple questions, and we'll show you tariffs and offers from all the energy companies. We’ll also show you how much you could save by switching to each tariff, to help you choose the best one for you.
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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