If we have a prepayment meter there are some rules in place to protect us
We’re all thinking about our energy use at the moment, but for those of us with prepayment meters it can be tricky to keep track of our rights.
The energy regulator Ofcom has laid out what we can expect from our energy suppliers if we have a prepayment meter. As well as traditional prepayment meters, smart prepayment meters are also available.
But we may not always be aware of where we stand, so here’s a Quids in! explainer.
- Our supplier has to offer us support in an emergency (if we worry we’re going to be cut off because we can’t afford to top up). This can be in the form of emergency credit. There’s also something called ‘friendly-hours’ credit for when our meter is low but the places where we top up are closed. Friendly credit is available on smart prepayment meters and electric key meters overnight, at weekends and on public holidays. It means the meter should not cut you off during the Friendly Credit periods.
- We will have to repay this credit when we next top up.
- Some suppliers allow us to top up via their app. This means we won’t have to go out to a prepayment point.
- Our supplier must work with us to review debt repayments. They can also offer us more time to pay and can link us up with hardship funds.
- We must be able to reach our meter. We’re not allowed to move it ourselves but our supplier should try to move it for us. This is usually free (and will certainly be free if we’re on a Priority Services Register). If it can’t be moved it has to be replaced with a smart meter or traditional meter.
Debt and prepayment meters
If we’re in debt and our supplier wants to move us to a prepayment meter there are some things we should know.
- Our supplier must offer us a range of ways to repay the debt, not just a prepayment meter.
- They can only fit a prepayment meter if it’s safe and easy for us to get to it.
- Our supplier used to be able get a warrant to fit a prepayment meter. But in England and Wales this has been paused. We don’t know how long this pause will last though. Previously, warrants were ONLY meant to be give out after the supplier has taken all other steps to work out payments with us. Getting a warrant was always meant to be a last resort to stop us from being cut off. And even then, ONLY if we’re not classed as very vulnerable. But unfortunately, in recent years some of the guidelines seem to have been ignored.
- There are charges for warrants – these are capped at £150.
If we can’t afford to top up our meter we should speak to our supplier as soon as possible.
And if we’re going to be away from home for a while, we should remember that the standing charges will still apply. Even if we’re not using any energy, these standing charges (about 46p per day for electricity and 28p per day for gas) can mount up and leave us in debt.
Most energy firms have signed up to special commitments with Ofcom and Energy UK about how they support vulnerable customers. Remember, we can raise a complaint with our supplier if we don’t feel they’ve been fair.