*You could save an average of £216: Between 1 July and 31 December 2020, people who have switched energy supplier for both gas and electricity with Uswitch saved an average of £216.
Prepayment energy – also known as pay as you go energy – is where you pay for your energy use in advance by topping up a specialist prepayment meter. Traditional energy plans and meters work by allowing you to pay for your energy in arrears after receiving a bill – whether through direct debit or regular one-off payments (either online or via the post). In contrast, prepayment energy requires you to keep a key, smartcard or token topped up with credit, which when plugged into the meter pays for the energy as you use it. Around four million households are on prepayment tariffs.
A prepayment energy meter is a type of meter that requires you to pay for energy before you use it. You can do this in the form of top-ups either online or in person.
Prepayment meters are primarily used to avoid falling into energy debt. Energy is paid for in advance, so your supplier doesn’t have to worry about missed payments, while you only pay for the energy that you use. They’re also favoured by landlords in rented homes as it removes the risk of tenants not paying bills. Customers who have repeatedly missed payments may also be placed on a prepayment meter by their energy supplier to ensure they only use energy they pay for and to help pay off energy debt. With all this in mind, prepayment meters aren’t ideal for the standard home.
When your key or card is plugged into your prepaid gas meter or prepaid electricity meter, you should see how much credit is left on your account. Most prepayment meters also offer a small amount of emergency credit – typically £5 – in case you’re unable to top up your meter before your current credit runs out. Note, this emergency credit is automatically deducted from the credit you add when you next top up, and if you exhaust this you’ll be left without power until you do top up.
Occasionally you may be asked to take a meter reading – for example, when you’re moving out. To do this, look for a button on the meter which, when pressed, will change display to provide you with the meter reading.
All prepayment plans allow you to top up your card by cash or credit card by visiting a shop, newsagent, or post office that has either Payzone or PayPoint terminals depending on which payment providers your supplier supports.
An increasing number of suppliers also allow you to top up your credit online via a smartphone app or through your web browser, meaning you don’t have to leave your home to do so.
You should compare prepayment energy deals for the simple reason of saving money. Finding new energy deals can be difficult – and doubly so if you’re on a prepayment meter – but armed with an energy comparison tool like Money.co.uk, you can make light work of finding the best prepayment deal for you.
No, prices on prepayment meters can vary just like any other energy plan, which is why running a price comparison to find the cheapest energy supplier currently available in your region is so important.
We cover a huge range of suppliers so you can find the very best deals. In addition to the big six energy suppliers, other providers who support prepayment tariffs include:
The cheapest prepayment gas and electric supplier varies from region to region, so you should always search by postcode and run an energy price comparison to find the cheapest for you.
To do so using Money.co.uk’s price comparison service, simply pop your postcode into the form at the top of this page and click ‘Compare energy deals’ to get started. Answer all the questions, making sure you select ‘Prepayment meter’ when asked how you pay for your energy, to see the cheapest prepayment meter tariffs currently available to you.
Yes, you can have both pay as you go gas and electric on a prepayment meter.
Prepayment meters mean you only pay for the energy you use, so there’s no chance of overspending. If you are in a situation where you can’t budget for monthly bills, then a prepayment meter can help manage your money.
Sadly, yes - prepayment meters are almost always more expensive than both fixed price and variable energy plans. This is because customers on prepayment meter energy plans are viewed as less reliable payers than those paying by monthly direct debit.
According to Ofgem’s own figures, as of February 2021, the cheapest prepayment dual fuel tariff cost around £984/year. In comparison, the cheapest standard tariff was around £860/year, over £120 less. Both figures are based on typical domestic consumption values (TDCV) of 2,900 kWh (electricity) and 12,000 kWh (gas).
Yes, but this depends on your circumstances. If you’ve just moved home and found that the property has a prepayment meter then you should be able to change back to a standard meter quite easily, subject to a credit check if you opt for monthly direct debit. If you were placed on a prepayment meter by your supplier then it may be more difficult – you’ll need to pay any outstanding debt and have improved your credit score.
There are several things you can do to improve your credit score:
Get on the electoral roll.
Apply for a low limit credit card and always pay it off to build up your score.
Close any credit accounts you don’t use.
If your energy supplier has gone bust, Ofcom will move you to a new provider. This means there will be no interruption to your service, but it may lead to you paying more than you are currently. If your provider has recently gone bust, start an energy comparison right away and get yourself on the best priced plan.
An IHD is an ‘in home display’ that gives you a clear picture of how much energy you are using and the cost. These devices help you keep track of your costs and usage so you can know if you’re keeping to your energy budget or not. Find out more about energy monitors here.
You can make an energy switch at any time but check first to see if any exit fees apply to your tariff. As you’re on a standard variable plan, this shouldn’t be the case. Also note you’ll end up with a new top-up key or card, so be sure to use all the credit on your existing card before you switch to the new one.
You may be able to change energy suppliers in a rented property. If your landlord agrees, you can change from a prepayment meter to a standard meter, but you may need to switch back (and pay for the cost of doing so) when you move out.
In most cases, there’s no charge for installing a prepayment meter. This should be met by your supplier, although there are some exceptions:
You switched to a standard meter in rented accommodation and are now moving out, in which case your landlord may require you to switch back.
If you’ve had a meter change in the previous 12 months.
You missed the original appointment.
If you’re looking to move from a prepayment meter to a standard one, then you should check to see if your supplier will move you to a standard meter to free. All big six energy suppliers will swap you over for free, but some smaller suppliers may charge you.
You can get around this charge by performing an energy price comparison and choosing a supplier that will perform the meter switch for free.
If you do get a free switch to a standard meter, your supplier may subsequently charge you for the switch to recoup its costs if you move to a different supplier within 12 months. That shouldn’t stop you switching to a cheaper tariff from the same supplier, though.
If your prepayment meter and supplier support online top-ups, you should be able to do so from your phone using a mobile app. If this isn’t an option, you’ll need to dip into your emergency credit, which is usually around £5 and will see you through the night or until you can get to a shop and top up. You will need to pay back this credit – it’ll be deducted from your next top-up. Not paying back this debt is likely to lead to your service being suspended.
Contact your supplier and ask for a new one. You might be charged for this, though, so try to keep it safe.
This depends on whether your supplier offers this service - those that do so include:
Having this option may depend on having a certain model of meter installed or being contracted to a particular energy plan, so contact your provider if you want to make sure you can top up online.
You can change energy supplier once every 28 days, though it's best to run a price comparison and get it right the first time.