What is a prepayment meter?
A prepayment meter is a type of domestic energy meter that lets you pay for energy before you use it. This type of meter is also known as a pay-as-you-go meter.
Prepayment meters offer flexibility, allowing you to pay money in when you choose instead of paying a monthly bill. This can make it easier to budget, since you do not need to wait for a monthly bill to arrive.
You can also build up credit during times you use less energy, for instance during the warmer months of the year.
With a prepayment meter you will pay standing charges and you will need credit to keep your appliances running as normal if you’re away. You may want to consider if other tariffs or other payment methods could be more cost-effective.
Reading your prepayment meter
How you take a reading will depend on the type of meter you have. It’s usually very simple and involves pressing a button on the meter.
You should contact your energy supplier if you need help taking a meter reading.
Topping up your prepayment meter
Prepayment meter credit is topped up using a key or card. You can top up your credit at the Post Office and shops where Payzone or PayPoint is offered. If you have a smart prepayment meter, you can also top up with a mobile app or other device.
Difficulty topping up your prepayment meter
If you're running low and cannot afford to top up just yet, or if you cannot access a top-up point, emergency credit and friendly hours credit may be able to help you stay on supply until you're able to buy more credit.
If your credit is running low, you should be able to access emergency credit for your prepayment meter. This is a small amount of money to help you stay on supply that you pay back next time you top up.
How you access emergency credit depends on your supplier and meter type. Check with your supplier for information on what to do if you need emergency credit.
If you use up all your emergency credit, the word DEBT will show on your meter’s digital display, along with other information, such as how much you owe.
Friendly hours credit
There may be times when you run out of credit overnight, on a Sunday or during a public holiday, when your usual top-up point could be closed.
If your credit runs out during these times, you’ll still be able to keep using electricity and gas. This is known as friendly hours credit. The times you can access this will depend on the type of prepayment meter you have.
The cost of any energy you use during that time will then be added to your meter, and you’ll pay it back next time you top up.
If you’re worried you cannot afford to top up your prepayment meter, contact your supplier straight away. Our rules mean they must offer support. This includes:
- additional support credit if you’re in a vulnerable situation and have few options to pay
- additional support credit while you work out ways to pay if you are in a vulnerable situation
You’ll need to repay the credit from your supplier when you next top up. Suppliers must work with you to agree on a payment plan you can afford.
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
Most suppliers have signed up to the Energy UK Vulnerability Commitment drawn up with Ofgem to support vulnerable households.
For more information on help available, see our page here: Getting help if you cannot afford your bills.
Prepayment meters for repaying debt
Energy suppliers must offer a range of ways to pay debt back. One option could be through a prepayment meter. This lets you repay some of your outstanding debt automatically every time you top up your meter credit.
Your supplier can only fit a prepayment meter for debt if it’s safe and reasonably practical for you to access and use.
A supplier can force-fit a prepayment meter by warrant or by remotely switching your smart meter only after they have taken all reasonable steps to agree payment with you. It should be a last resort in order to avoid disconnecting your supply.
Suppliers cannot force-fit a prepayment meter for people in certain vulnerable situations if it would be traumatic. Before they can fit a prepayment meter they have to apply for a warrant. This can cost up to £150 and can be added onto existing debt. People who are in certain vulnerable situations will not have to pay this.
Citizens Advice offer guidance on what to expect if your supplier is going to install a prepayment meter.
We’re making changes to these rules and making them stricter. From 8 November 2023, energy suppliers must follow new stricter rules before a prepayment meter can be involuntarily installed in a household. Read about the changes to energy suppliers’ licences and the new rules for installing involuntary prepayment meters.
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.
StepChange can help with applications.
Debt and disconnection
If you're concerned about falling behind on bills, contact your supplier. They can discuss payment plans and payment method options with you.
Suppliers must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting an energy supply for debt. Strict rules apply.
Suppliers cannot disconnect you if you:
- owe a debt to a previous supplier
- are bankrupt and the debt has been owed since 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 to 31 March), your supplier must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting you if you:
- have reached state pension age
- are disabled
- are chronically sick
Your supplier must not disconnect your supply between 1 October 2023 to 31 March 2024 if you’ve reached state pension age and either:
- live on your own
- live with children aged under 18 years
- live with other people who are of pensionable age
Many suppliers have also signed up to a vulnerability commitment. This pledges they’ll never knowingly disconnect if you:
- have children under the age of six at any time of the year
- have children under the age of 16 in winter (1 October to 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
Can I switch supplier if I’m on a prepayment meter?
Yes, it’s possible to switch supplier if you’re on a prepayment tariff – and you can also switch suppliers if you have outstanding debt of less than £500.
Can I get my prepayment meter changed for a credit meter?
If you’re a tenant, you’ll need permission from your landlord for a change of meter. If you own the property you live in, then it’s up to you if you want to change your meter. Your supplier may require you to pay a deposit or conduct a credit check.
Difficulty getting to your prepayment meter
You need to be able to reach your meter. It’s illegal to move a meter yourself, so your supplier has an obligation to try to move it if access is difficult for you.
This is usually free but will depend on your situation. It’s free if you are on a Priority Services Register.
If it is not possible to move your meter it must be replaced with one that allows you to pay for energy after you’ve used it. This applies if you have a disability or illness that makes it:
- bad for your health if your energy were to be cut off
- hard for you to top up, understand or use the meter
If you are not happy with your supplier’s response to a prepayment meter difficulty, you can complain to your energy supplier.
- 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: