Stop your energy supplier moving you to prepayment

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

Your gas or electricity supplier might tell you they’re going to move you to prepayment if you owe them money.

If your supplier is trying to move you to prepayment, they must follow rules set by the energy regulator, Ofgem. 

If you’re behind with your gas and electricity bills, your supplier might either:

  • install a smart meter in prepayment mode

  • remotely switch your smart meter to prepayment mode

If you don’t want a smart meter you can ask your supplier to install a non-smart prepayment meter, but it might not be possible.

When your supplier won’t move you to prepayment

Your supplier won’t move you to prepayment if:

  • your debt is less than £200 for electricity and less than £200 for gas

  • it’s been less than 3 months since the bill was issued

  • you disagree with the bill amount and you’ve told them why, for example, the bill is for a previous tenant

Important

Which energy suppliers can force you onto prepayment

Energy suppliers must show Ofgem, the energy regulator, they can follow the new prepayment rules. 

Only then will they be allowed to forcibly install prepayment meters or remotely switch smart meters to prepayment mode.

Check which suppliers are allowed to move you to prepayment on the Ofgem website.

When you can refuse to be moved to prepayment

Your supplier can’t make you move to prepayment if it wouldn’t be safe or practical.

If you’re aged 75 or older

Tell your supplier moving to prepayment wouldn’t be safe 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 - your supplier can’t force you onto prepayment.

If you’re disabled or have a health condition

If you’re disabled or have a health condition and you don’t think it would be safe for you to be on prepayment, you should tell your supplier immediately. 

You can refuse to move to prepayment 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 refuse to move to 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 refuse 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 that you'd have to self-disconnect if you had 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 a child 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 forcibly moved onto prepayment - give them as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Your supplier will use this to work out the risk to you if you’re moved to prepayment - or anyone in your home. 

If your supplier thinks it’s safe for you to move to prepayment and you disagree, you should complain. Check how to complain to your supplier.

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 move to 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 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’ve agreed a repayment plan

If you have a repayment plan and you’re making the agreed payments to your supplier, they can’t move you onto prepayment. This also applies if you’re in the process of setting up a repayment plan.

If you’re struggling to afford the repayment amounts you agreed, you can ask your supplier to lower the amount you're paying.

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

Your supplier can’t move you to prepayment if you can’t get to your meter or if it would be too hard for you to top up. Tell your supplier if you can’t:

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

  • get to your current 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.

Check your supplier is following the rules

Your supplier has to follow rules set by Ofgem, the energy regulator. Before they install a prepayment meter or switch the mode of your smart meter to prepayment, your supplier must:

  • attempt to contact you 10 times - they might write, email or call you

  • visit your home to check it’s safe and practical for you to be on prepayment

  • offer you other ways to repay money you owe - for example, a repayment plan or payments through your benefits

If your supplier only has your postal address, they don’t have to contact you 10 times.

Your supplier must write to you and give you 7 working days’ notice before they install a prepayment meter or switch your smart meter to prepayment mode.

How your supplier will contact you

Your supplier will contact you using the details on your account - make sure your supplier has all your current contact details. This includes your current address, phone number and email.

Tell your supplier if you need to be contacted in an accessible format - for example, Braille or large print.

You shouldn’t ignore your supplier when they contact you. If you’re worried because you owe them money, they should work with you to create a repayment plan you can afford. 

If you need more help, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's energy advice service.

Complain to your supplier

If your supplier is trying to move you to prepayment and you don’t think they should, contact them and explain your situation. They should check what support they can offer you. 

Tell them anything which might make 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

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

If your supplier still wants to move you to prepayment after you’ve contacted them, you should make a complaint to get them to change their mind. Check how to complain to your energy supplier.

You could pay more if you refuse without a reason

If none of the reasons on this page apply to you, and your supplier follows the rules, they’re allowed to make you move to prepayment.

If you don't agree to this, they can get a warrant to enter your home and install a prepayment meter. 

They’ll add the cost of the warrant to the money you owe them - this could be up to £150. Your supplier can’t charge you if:

  • you find it extremely difficult to talk to your supplier - for example, you have a mental health condition, disability or recently suffered a bereavement

  • you’re already in debt and struggling with living costs, for example, you have more money going out than you have coming in

Check if something is an energy scam

Some scammers are pretending to be from energy companies to get your personal information.

If you think something might be a scam: 

  • don’t give out any personal information or bank details

  • don’t use any contact details from the possible scam

You can check if something is a scam.

Get extra help from your energy supplier

If there's a reason moving to prepayment would be hard for you, apply to be put on the Priority Services Register. If you're on the register, your supplier has to give you extra help with your energy supply. 

You can sign up if you're either:

  • of State Pension age

  • disabled or have a long-term health condition

  • considered ‘vulnerable’ by your energy network

You could be classed as vulnerable if you're disabled or have a long-term health condition. Your energy network might also consider you vulnerable if you:

  • don't speak or read English well

  • have children under 5 years old or are pregnant

  • have no sense of smell or would struggle to smell gas

Check if you're eligible to sign up to the Priority Services Register.

If you’re on the Priority Services Register your energy supplier can:

  • make your call a priority when you contact them

  • give their engineers a password if they visit or contact you - so you know they’re genuine

  • move your prepayment meter if you struggle to get to it

Signing up to the Priority Services Register 

You’ll need to fill out the form on your electricity operator’s website - this is who owns and operates the electricity cables in your area. Your electricity operator is different from your electricity supplier, who sends your bills.

You can check who your electricity network operator is on the Power Cut 105 website. You'll need to know the postcode of your property.

Further help

If you need more advice about stopping your supplier from making you move to prepayment, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's energy advice service.  

Advice Direct Scotland energy advice

Freephone: 0808 196 8660

Website: energyadvice.scot

If you’re in debt, you might be able to get financial help with paying for your energy.

You can also get help with debt.