A prepayment meter allows you to pay as you go for your gas and electricity and pay money you owe to your energy supplier.
How to use a prepayment meter
You may be given a prepayment meter if you have existing debt with your energy company and they want you to pay back the debt.
You may also be given one if you fail a credit check or don't have a good enough credit record to get an ordinary meter.
Electricity prepayment meters are usually installed inside the property. Gas meters can be found inside or outside the property.
A prepayment meter has 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:
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 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 tenant. They will issue you with a new key and start your new account.
Be aware that the meter has a daily standing charge. This means that a small fixed amount is deducted every day, whether you use energy or not.
Make sure that you top up if you plan to leave your home for more than a few days.
Forced to have a prepayment meter
Your utility company might force you to have a prepayment meter installed as a way of paying back debt if you owe them money or have trouble budgeting.
The energy supplier can use a warrant to enter your home and install a prepayment meter.
They program the meter to deduct a portion of your credit when you top up, to pay off the debt.
You can appeal against the warrant by going to a magistrate's court. Get advice if you find yourself in this situation.
Get free debt advice from Step Change.
Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser in your area.
Lost energy key or card
Contact your supplier for a new card if you lose yours.
Your supplier can activate a temporary key or card which you 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 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.
Cost of having a prepayment meter
Prepayment meters are normally more expensive than standard credit meters.
The price for both gas and electricity is higher and the daily standing charge is also higher. For example, the cheapest 12-month prepay tariff was £1,209, and the cheapest credit meter tariff was £989. (Source: Moneysupermarket, Nov 2014. Tariffs assume Ofgem medium usage, may vary by region.)
Shop around for the best deals. Three of the biggest price comparison websites are:
There are some budgeting advantages to using prepayment meters. You are less likely to run up large bills than you are with a credit meter.
If you pay the bills, you have the right to change providers.
How to remove a prepayment meter
You need to get the landlord's permission to have a prepayment meter removed, because removal means a physical alteration to the property.
You may have to pay for the meter to be reinstalled at the end of your tenancy, if the landlord wants the property to be returned in the state that you moved in to it.
Sometimes landlords prefer to have prepayment meters so that debts associated with the property do not escalate.
An energy company will not pursue a landlord if a tenant moves out and leaves debt on the meter if they can provide a signed tenancy agreement.
Problems paying fuel bills
If you have problems with fuel bills or debt you can get face-to-face help from specialist Shelter advisers, funded by the British Gas Energy Trust, at several locations in England and Scotland. The initiative is part of a wider partnership between British Gas and Shelter to improve homes in the private rented sector, including help with the cost of energy-saving home improvements. You can also contact the Energy Saving Trust for information on similar services provided by other energy providers.