Prepayment meters explained
Many homes in the UK have prepayment meters, but this doesn't mean they are a good thing. They can often be inconvenient and expensive, but can also help to prevent you getting into debt with your energy supplier. Our guide to prepayment meters should help you to decide if they are right for you.
What is a prepayment meter?
Prepayment meters work in the same way as a pay as you go mobile phone- you need to put credit on to the meter before you can use the gas and electricity supplied to your home. Once the credit is used up, your energy supply will stop until it is topped up again. Obviously if you are not able to get out to top up your meter due to illness or bad weather, you can have a big problem on our hands.
Most meters can be topped up using a card, key or token at a Post Office or Paypoint outlet (you will probably have a local corner shop that is a Paypoint or Payzone outlet). Your energy company will provide you with this device, but it is your responsibility to keep it safe. Once your device has been topped up, it needs to be inserted into your meter for the credit to register.
What types of prepayment meter are there?
There are three main types of electricity prepayment meter, which are smartcard meters (where you top up a card online), key meters and token meters (both of which must be topped up in a store). Most gas meters are now Quantum meters, which use a card to register credit (the card must be topped up in a store).
Not all meters are supported by all suppliers (for example Scottish Power support key meters for electricity and British Gas support Smartcards), and it is difficult to find out definitively who supports what. One of the drawbacks to being a prepayment customer is the uncertainty that this causes.
Will my prepayment meter cost me more money?
Having a prepayment meter almost always means you will be paying more than you need to for your energy bills. Not only is the unit price for your energy more expensive with a prepayment meter, but the cheapest energy tariffs offered by suppliers are usually not made available to prepayment customers.
In addition to this, if you have an older style of meter then it may need to be updated with price changes manually. As energy suppliers will need to go round many different houses to do this, it could sometimes be months until your meter is updated- leaving you paying over the odds for your energy, or finding out that you actually owe money.
Three very good reasons to have your meter changed, and fast!
What if I don't want a prepayment meter?
If you have decided that a prepayment meter is not right for you then you can switch to a credit meter. The best thing to do is to ask your current supplier to change this for you (although in some cases you may be charged for this). If you have had a prepayment meter installed due to falling behind on your bills then they may refuse to do this for you. Once you have had your meter changed then you can take advantage of the full range of tariffs in the market by using our energy price comparison calculator to look for the best deals on gas and electricity prices.
How can I get cheap gas and electricity if I have a prepayment meter?
If you have decided to stick with your prepayment meter, then it is important that you compare energy prices for your home. You may be able to get the cost down by switching suppliers, or switching tariffs. Our price comparison tool can help.
What should I consider when choosing a new energy supplier?
There are a number of factors that you might want to take into consideration when choosing a new cheap gas and electricity supplier. Some of these are listed below.
- Do you want a single cheaper supplier for both your gas and electricity or are you just after the best deal irrespective of who supplies it?
- How competitive is the new supplier's tariff and how much will it save you each year?
- What payment options do they offer?
- What additional features and benefits come with the new energy deal?
- What can they offer in terms of customer service?
- What is their complaints handling record?
TheEnergyShop.com pulls together all this energy switching information into a single, easy to use place to make it easier for you to make your choice.