Find out how prepayment meters work, where to top them up and how they compare to standard energy meters.
What are prepayment meters?
A prepayment or prepaid meter allows you to pay for your gas and electricity in advance using a key or a card.
Electricity prepayment meters are usually installed in your home. Gas meters can be inside or outside.
Prepayment meters are normally more expensive than standard energy meters . You may not be able to switch to the cheapest energy tariffs with a prepayment meter.
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, contact your energy 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.
Insert the key or card into the meter to check if a previous tenant has left a debt on the meter.
Tell your supplier if they have and they should issue you with a new key or card and start a new account.
When you move out
Contact your supplier to tell them when you are moving out. Ask about a refund if there is credit on your meter.
Where to top up
You can top up a prepayment meter by taking the key or card to a Post Office or any local shop 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.
Lost key or card
Contact your supplier for a new key or card if you lose yours.
Your supplier can activate a temporary key or card which you can pick up from a local PayPoint, Payzone or Post Office.
Energy suppliers usually issue a replacement card or key free of charge. They may charge if you lose it a second time.
You have the right to switch supplier if you owe less than £500 to your current supplier.
Shop around for cheaper tariffs. Three of the biggest price comparison websites are:
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.
Daily standing charge
Some prepayment meters have a daily standing charge.
This means that a small fixed amount is deducted from your credit every day, whether you use energy or not. It is usually about 28p per day .
You have to pay this even if you don’t have any credit on your meter. A debt will build until you next top up.
Make sure you top up if you plan to leave your home for more than a few days.
If your supplier wants to install a prepayment meter
Your supplier might want to install a prepayment meter as a way of paying them back if you owe them money or have trouble budgeting.
They programme the meter to deduct a portion of your credit when you top up to pay off the debt.
You can refuse to have a prepayment meter installed if you can show it wouldn’t be safe or practical for you to have one.
For example, if you have a disability and the prepayment meter would be difficult to reach or if there are no shops to top up the meter near your home.
If you don’t have a good reason and you refuse to allow the supplier to install the meter, they can get a warrant to enter your home and install a meter. They can charge you up to £150 to do this.
Get advice if you find yourself in this situation.
Prepayment meter removal
You must get your landlord's permission if you want to switch to a standard meter. You may be charged a fee for the installation of a new meter.
You may also have to pay for a prepayment meter to be reinstalled when you move out if the landlord wants the property to be returned to its original state.
Last updated: 27 September 2021