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UnderstandingPrepayment Meters

When you use a prepayment meter, not only do you get to enjoy a bill-free existence, but you also have total control over the energy you use. It’s not surprising that around 6 million people in the UK use prepaid gas and electric meters as a way of managing their energy spend.

How does a prepayment meter work?

Prepayment meters are essentially the pay-as-you-go mobile deal of the energy world. You are simply paying for the energy you'll use up front using a key or card that you take to the shop to top up with or online via the smart meter website.

Any of the 23,000 PayPoint stores in the UK will be able to top up your energy key or card for you. Alternatively, you can do this at your nearest Post Office using their Paystation service.

You simply load your credit onto the key or card at the shop, bring it back home and reinsert the device back into the meter. Your electricity and gas credit will then transfer automatically once you reinsert your card or key so you won't be sat in the dark for hours waiting for it to take effect. 

Who will benefit from a prepayment meter?

A prepayment meter may suit some more than others, for instance single people renting who use less energy may get more from a prepayment meter, whereas a large family will likely benefit from having a standard meter. 

Customers in debt

If you're in debt, or struggle to keep up with bills, a prepayment meter is perfect for you as you can't get caught up in arrears. With no monthly bills filled with nasty surprises, you're in total control of what you pay, when you pay it and how much energy you use. 

Landlords

Landlords may prefer to install prepayment meters in rented property to stop any build-up of energy debt in between tenants. With a prepaid meter, there's no chance of energy bills being carried over to new tenants.
They're also a smart choice for shorthold tenancies as a credit based plan may not be the most cost-effective option for someone only living at an address for a few months. 

Why you should get a prepayment meter

Some advantages of having a prepayment meter are:

  • Complete control - When you have a prepayment meter, you’re never really going to receive any nasty surprises. You will only ever pay for what you are going to use and it’s very difficult to build up any sort of debt with prepayment meters. You’ll be able to check your remaining balance at any time as it’s clearly displayed on the meter itself.

  • Emergency credit - Luckily, if you run out of credit and are unable to get to a shop, you can activate emergency credit by inserting your key or card into the meter and selecting the emergency credit option. You’ll usually get around £5 to see you through which will be deducted from your next top up.

Why you shouldn’t get a prepayment meter

And some of the reasons you might not want to get one::

  • More expensive - While it might seem like the smarter option to pay up front to avoid overpaying or getting in arrears, in the long run you could end up spending more on energy as prepaid meters don’t grant you access to offers or promotional tariffs aside from the standard variable rate.

  • Inconvenient to top up - Unless you have a smart meter which allows you to top up online, you’re more than likely going to need to top up using your key or card at a shop with a PayPoint. This may sound simple enough, but sometimes trudging to the shop when you fancy a bath is downright inconvenient. What’s more, if you run out of gas or electric when your local shop is shut – you could be stuck without power.

  • Loss of service - This is possibly the biggest drawback of a prepayment meter: if your emergency credit runs out, you will be without power until it is topped back up. Yes, that means sitting in the dark without even the glow of Netflix to keep you warm! If you’re a prepayment meter user, always keep an eye on your meter and how much credit you’ve got left to avoid any loss of service.

How to top up your prepayment meter

To top up your gas or electric, all you need to do is take your key or card to a shop with PayPoint and ask them to top it up by the desired amount. Once this has been done, all you need to do is reinsert your key or card and, voila, your credit will be updated automatically.

 

If you’ve got a smart meter, you can pay online using your smart card rather than venture out to the shop.

How do I get a prepayment meter installed?

If you've got a traditional meter installed in your property, simply give your provider a call and ask for an engineer to come out to install your prepayment meter.

You'll need to advise them on where to put the meter as it needs to be easily accessible for manual top ups. Most suppliers will do this for free, however it's always a good idea to double check this with them. 

How do I get rid of a prepayment meter?

If you've got a prepayment meter and would like to move to a traditional meter, you'll need to check with your supplier whether you're eligible for a credit meter. They'll usually run a credit check to see whether you'll be able to manage the monthly repayments.

If you pass the credit check, your provider will send an engineer to come and fit your new credit meter. You may be charged for this depending on who you're with - give them a call to make sure.

Don't forget to ask your landlord if you're renting, they may prefer to keep tenants on a prepayment meter to avoid any leftover debt. 

Moving into a home with a prepayment meter

If you’ve moved into a new property and you’ve inherited the previous occupant’s prepayment meter, you should give the supplier a call and let them know they’ll need to set up a new account for you. From there, you’ll be able to ask them to come and remove the prepayment meter if you want to move to credit based energy bills.

 

It’s wise not to use any cards or keys left behind as you may wind up inadvertently topping up somebody else’s account!

Comparing tariffs on a prepayment meter

While with prepayment tariff you're not given any promotional offers or incentives on your rate, it could still benefit you to switch providers to get a better deal.
Use our handy energy comparison tool (also available on Google Play and the App Store) to check for better fixed-rate offers in your area.