Switching from prepayment to a credit meter

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

If you have an old-style prepayment meter, you can ask your energy supplier to replace it with:

  • an old-style credit meter - this type of meter doesn't let you prepay for your energy

  • a smart meter - this type of meter has a prepayment setting your supplier can turn on or off

Your supplier usually won’t replace your meter or change your smart meter setting if you’re in debt to them.

You can find out who your gas or electricity supplier is if you don’t already know.

You won't have to pay to have an old-style credit meter or a smart meter installed. If your supplier wants to charge you, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.

If you were wrongly forced onto prepayment

In February 2023 Ofgem, the energy regulator, asked all energy suppliers to review any recent decisions they made to:

  • force customers onto a prepayment meter

  • remotely switch smart meter customers to prepayment

Ofgem asked energy suppliers to check they followed the rules when switching customers to prepayment. You can check the rules your supplier should have followed.  

If your supplier didn’t follow the rules, you might be able to get your:

  • prepayment meter switched to a credit meter

  • smart meter switched to credit mode 

In some cases you might be offered compensation. 

Complain to your supplier if you think you were wrongly switched to prepayment.

If it isn’t safe or practical for you to be on prepayment

Tell your supplier if it isn’t safe or practical for you to be on prepayment, even if you’re in debt - ask them to move you to a credit meter. 

If you’re aged 75 or older

Tell your supplier being on prepayment isn’t safe or practical if you’re aged 75 or older and you:

  • live alone

  • live with someone, but neither of you can safely get to, work or top up your prepayment meter

If you live with young children

Tell your supplier if a child under 2 years old lives in your home - ask your supplier to move you off prepayment.

If you’re disabled or have a health condition

If you’re disabled or have a health condition, you shouldn't be on prepayment.

Tell your supplier if you or someone in your home has a: 

  • health condition or disability which needs a continuous supply of electricity - for example, you use a stair lift or take medication which needs to be kept in a fridge

  • health condition which is made worse by a cold home - for example, sickle cell disease

  • severe or terminal health condition - for example, COPD or cancer

You can also ask your supplier to move you off prepayment if you have a health condition or disability which makes it difficult to reach, work or top up a prepayment meter. You can only ask to be moved off prepayment if there’s no one else in the home who can help.

If you can’t afford to top up

If you run out of gas or electricity because you can't top up your meter, this is called 'self-disconnecting'. Tell your supplier you might have to self-disconnect if you stay on a prepayment meter.

Tell your supplier if you can’t afford to top up and you or anyone in your home:

  • is pregnant or has children aged between 2 and 5 years old

  • has a long term health condition, for example, Parkinson’s or osteoporosis

  • has a mental health condition

  • has had a recent bereavement

  • has a health condition which is made worse if they can’t eat hot food - for example, malnutrition

You should tell your supplier how your situation will be made worse if you’re forced to stay on prepayment - give them as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Working out your budget

It might help if you can show your supplier how much you have left each month after paying essential bills and priority debts. If you’re close to a negative budget it might mean your supplier won't force you to stay on prepayment. 

A negative budget means you have more money going out than you have coming in every month. 

Try and be as accurate as you can when making your budget. Before you start, find your most recent:

  • bank statements

  • payslips

  • debit and credit card statements and bills

  • receipts for things you pay for in cash

Use the budget calculator on the National Debtline website. You'll create a document that you can keep.

Make sure you save a copy - you’ll need to refer to this later. You’ll also need to send a copy to your energy supplier.

If you need help managing money you owe your energy supplier or anybody else, check our debt advice.

If you can’t get to or top up your meter

Tell your supplier if you can’t reach or top up your meter. Tell your supplier if you can’t:

  • reach your meter - for example, if it's above head height and you’re disabled

  • get to your meter - for example, if it’s in a shared cupboard you don’t have a key for

  • easily top up your meter - for example, if you don’t have a car and the nearest shop is over 2 miles away or you don’t have access to the internet to top up online

There might be ways around problems like these, for example, someone else in the home could reach or top up your meter. Your supplier might be able to move your meter or let you top up over the phone.

Tell your supplier anything which makes things more difficult for you to use a prepayment meter, for example, if you’re recovering from an injury. You should also tell them if you live with anyone who is:

  • aged 16 and under

  • aged 65 and older

You should ask to be put on your supplier's priority services register. This will give you extra help with your energy supply.

If you’ve finished paying off debt

If you don’t want to be on prepayment anymore, your supplier must remove your old-style prepayment meter and give you an old-style credit meter or smart meter instead. 

If you’d prefer to stay on prepayment, your supplier must reset your meter so you're not paying too much.

When you might need a credit check or deposit

Before your supplier installs an old-style credit meter or turns off your smart meter's prepayment setting, you might have to have a credit check or pay a deposit. If you’d rather not have a credit check you can ask to pay a deposit instead.

If your supplier asks for a deposit, it should be for a reasonable amount. They should work out what’s reasonable by looking at how much energy households like yours use over 3 months. This is usually between £150 and £300, though it could be more.

If it's much more, complain to your supplier, asking to know how they decided the amount. 

Check your final credit before you move off prepayment

Before your supplier installs your new meter or turns off your smart meter's prepayment setting, make a note of how much credit you have left. Your supplier will transfer your credit to your new account, so it will go towards your first bill.

If you owe money to your supplier because you've used some emergency credit, write this down instead. They’ll add what you owe to your first bill.

You should also take a final meter reading.

It’s a good idea to take a photo of the meter, so you have proof of what it says.

If you rent your home

You don’t need your landlord's permission to change your meter.

Your landlord can make you change your meter back when you move out. If you refuse to change it back they could keep some of your deposit.

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