Prepayment meters

A prepayment or prepaid meter allows you to pay for your gas and electricity in advance using a key or a card.

How to use a prepayment meter

Electricity prepayment meters are usually installed inside the property, gas meters can be found inside or outside the property.

A prepayment meter will have a place to insert a key or card which tops up the meter with credit.

You can top up at the Post Office or any local shop or garage which displays the Payzone or PayPoint logo :

   

Find the location of your nearest top-up point:

If you have a smart prepayment meter, you may be able to top up online or through an app.

When you move in

Your landlord or letting agent gives you the top up card or keys when you move in. If you don’t get one, phone your supplier.

Call the energy supplier to let them know you are a new contract-holder (the energy supplier may refer to a contract-holder as a ‘tenant’). They will update their records and make sure that you are on the correct rate.

Contact the energy supplier if there is debt left on the meter from a previous contract-holder. They will issue you with a new key and start your new account.

If your energy supplier is trying to force you into prepayment

In some circumstances energy suppliers may be able to take steps to install prepayment meters even if you do not give permission. For example, this could happen if you have existing debt with them and they want you to pay  it back. The supplier can then program the meter to deduct a portion of your credit when you top up, to pay off the debt. However, there are rules that your energy supplier must follow if they are thinking of doing this.

Energy suppliers must not force households with vulnerable people to switch to prepayment meters. This includes:

  • Households which require a continuous supply for health reasons, including dependence on powered medical or equipment or keeping medication in a fridge
  • Households where all occupants are aged 75 years and over (if there is no other support in the house)
  • Households with children aged under 2 years old
  • Households with residents with severe health issues including terminal illnesses (for example, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cancer or organ failure) or those with a medical dependency on a warm home (for example due to illness such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sickle cell disease)
  • Where there is no one within the household that has the ability to top up the meter due to physical or mental incapacity

Before installing a prepayment meter, energy suppliers must also:

  • Make at least 10 attempts to contact you before installing a prepayment meter
  • Carry out a ‘site welfare visit’ before a prepayment meter is installed
  • Ensure that representatives carrying out involuntary prepayment meter installations or site welfare visits wear audio or body cameras. This helps the supplier to check for vulnerabilities in the household.
  • Give a £30 credit per meter when carrying out an involuntary installation. This applies to each prepayment installed and also , in the case of smart meter customers that are switched remotely.
  • Re-assess the case once you’ve repaid the debt. Suppliers must contact you to offer an assessment of whether a prepayment meter remains your most suitable and preferred payment method; if you wish to move off prepayment meter/s, your supplier must agree (providing you pass any required credit checks)

If you think your energy supplier is trying to force you into prepayment without following these rules you can make a complaint to them. You can find information about complaining to your energy supplier by visiting the Ofgem website.

Can I still be forced to have a prepayment meter if I’m not classed as vulnerable?

If you don’t have a good reason and you refuse to allow the supplier to install the meter, they may be able to get a warrant to enter your home and install a meter. They can charge you up to £150 to do this.

You can find further information about stopping your supplier forcing you to have a prepayment meter on Citizen’s Advice consumer advice pages.

Lost energy key or card

Contact your supplier for a new card if you lose yours. They activate a temporary key or card which you can pick up from a local Pay Point, Pay Zone or Post Office.

Energy providers issue a replacement card or key free of charge. They may charge if you lose it a second time.

Emergency credit

Emergency credit allows you time to top up your key or card. It is either activated automatically or you must manually activate it when you run out of credit.

The amount of emergency credit differs between suppliers but usually lasts for at least a day, giving you time to recharge your key.

You pay the emergency credit off the next time you top up. You can find further information about what to do if you can’t afford to top-up your prepayment meter on Citizen’s Advice consumer advice pages.

Cost of having a prepayment meter

Prepayment meters are normally more expensive than standard credit meters. Read more about deciding whether a prepayment meter is right for you on Citizen’s Advice consumer advice pages.

You shouldn’t pay to have a prepayment meter installed. If you’re getting an old-style prepayment meter and your supplier wants to charge you, tell them you’re going to switch to a new supplier that will do it for free. They might offer to install it for free if they don’t you should go ahead and switch.

It might be a better option to switch to a smart meter, as there is usually a prepayment option available for smart meters. Find out more about getting an old-style prepayment meter installed by visiting Citizen’s Advice consumer advice pages.

You have the right to switch supplier if you owe less than £500 to your current supplier. Shop around for the best deals. Three of the biggest price comparison websites are:

Ofgem provides a list of accredited price comparison sites.

Removing a prepayment meter

You need to get the landlord’s permission to have a prepayment meter removed.

You may have to pay for the meter to be reinstalled at the end of your occupation contract, if the landlord wants the property to be returned in the state that you moved in to it.

Problems paying fuel bills

If you have problems with fuel bills or debt you can get free, confidential, face-to-face help from specialist Shelter Cymru debt advisers at several locations in Wales. Click here to find details of the debt advice surgeries nearest to you.

You can also contact the Energy Saving Trust.

We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 08000 495 495.

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This page was last updated on: Tachwedd 8, 2023

Shelter Cymru acknowledges the support of Shelter in allowing us to adapt their content. The information contained on this site is updated and maintained by Shelter Cymru and only gives general guidance on the law in Wales. It should not be regarded or relied upon as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.