Prepayment meters explained
Your rights on prepayment meters and if you are at risk of disconnection.
Support for prepayment meters
Energy suppliers won’t disconnect your gas or electric if you miss a payment unless your supplier has tried to find ways for you to pay back that money. Our rules mean suppliers must offer payment plans you can afford.
Call your supplier if you are worried. Most have signed up to the Vulnerability Commitments drawn up with Ofgem and the industry trade body Energy UK to support vulnerable households.
Citizens Advice offer guidance on what to expect if your supplier is going to install a prepayment meter.
Difficulty topping up your prepayment meter
If you are worried you can’t afford to top up your prepayment meter, contact your supplier straight away.
Our rules mean they must offer emergency support. This includes:
- emergency credit if your meter runs low or runs out
- ‘friendly hours’ credit if top-up points are closed and your meter is running low. You can access this overnight, at weekends and on public holidays
- extra support credit if you are in a vulnerable situation and have few options to pay
- extra support credit while you work out ways to pay if you are in a vulnerable situation. For example, if you cannot leave your home because of the pandemic.
You will need to repay the credit from your supplier when you next top up. You can ask to agree these arrangements in a payment plan.
Suppliers must work with you to agree on payment plans you can afford. This includes reviewing a plan you have agreed before.
You can ask for:
- a review of your payments and debt repayments
- payment breaks or reductions
- more time to pay
- access to hardship funds
- Priority Service registration – a free support service if you are in a vulnerable situation.
Difficulty getting to your prepayment meter
Your supplier has to make sure you can reach your meter. It’s illegal to move a meter yourself.
They must try to move it if you find it difficult to get to. This is usually free, but it will depend on your situation. It’s free if you are on a Priority Services Register.
If your meter can’t be moved it must be replaced with a smart meter or traditional meter which lets you pay after you have used energy. This applies if you have a disability or illness that make it:
- bad for your health if your energy could get cut off
- hard for you top up, understand or use the meter.
Prepayment meters to repay a debt
Suppliers must offer a range of ways to pay back a debt. One option could be through a prepayment meter.
They can only fit a prepayment meter for debt:
- if it is safe, practical and easy for you to use and get to
- through a court warrant to cover ongoing energy use and debt repayments. A supplier can force-fit a prepayment meter by warrant only after they have taken all reasonable steps to agree payment with you. It should be a last resort to avoid disconnecting your supply.
Suppliers can’t force-fit a prepayment meter under warrant for people in very vulnerable situations if they don’t won’t one, or charge them for warrant costs on debts. Nor can they use warrants on people who would find the experience very traumatic.
Warrant charges for debts are capped at £150 for everyone else.
Breathing Space scheme
Breathing Space (sometimes called the 'Debt Respite Scheme') is a free government scheme that could give you up to 60 days' space from creditors to focus on getting debt advice and setting up a debt solution.
If you apply and are eligible, all creditors are informed and must stop any collection or enforcement activity. You'll still need to keep making your regular payments if you can afford to.
If you are told you could get disconnected for debt
Suppliers must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting an energy supply for debt. It should always be a last resort and avoided wherever possible. Strict rules apply.
Suppliers cannot disconnect you if you:
- owe a debt to a previous supplier
- are bankrupt and the debt is for before you were bankrupt
- owe a debt for a service or appliance from a supplier, and not for your gas or electricity usage.
In winter (1 October- 31 March), they must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting you if you:
- have reached state pension age
- are disabled
- are chronically sick.
They cannot disconnect your supply in winter if you have reached state pension age and either:
- live on your own
- live with children under the age of 18.
Many suppliers have signed up to a vulnerability commitment. This pledges that they will never knowingly disconnect you at any time of year if you:
- have children under the age of six
- have children under the age of 16 in winter (1 October – 31 March)
- cannot safeguard your welfare or the welfare of other members in your household because of your age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity.
If you lose supply due to a network problem (such as a power cut) or planned work on the grid, see our advice on power cut and supply problems.
If you aren’t happy with your supplier’s response to a prepayment meter difficulty, make a complaint.
Contact Citizens Advice if you aren’t sure about your options and need more support. If you are in a vulnerable situation, someone at their Extra Help Unit could take on your case.
- Call 0808 223 1133 or use their online webchat.
- For textphone, dial 18001 followed by the helpline number.
In Scotland, Advice Direct Scotland can help:
- Visit the energyadvice.scot website
- Call 0808 196 8660 or use their online webchat
- Email energyadvice.scot