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Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec Get a standard meter, or switch & save

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Energy prices are now up 3-7% on average for customers with a prepaid electric or gas meter. While you don’t have the options others do, you can still switch tariff or change meter to save £100s.

Prepayment meters are electricity and gas meters that allow you to pay for your energy on a pay-as-you-go basis. Over four million UK homes use them.

You top up your energy via a key or card, which you can credit at newsagents, post offices and garages or sometimes online. While they can help to budget, you usually pay more for energy.

Winter price hikes are over - it's time to switch

The big six energy providers - British Gas, SSE, Npower, EDF Energy, Scottish Power and E.on - all increased prices for prepay customers over the winter.

After the rises were announced, the PM removed some of the green levies that suppliers must pay. This is in turn enabled suppliers to cut prices slightly, but not as much as they hiked. Others just factored it into their rises. It means bills are still up 3-7% on average.

Comparison sites now factor in every price hike and subsequent cut, so it's a good time to switch. Compare now and there's a level playing field, with no risk that the supplier you switch to won't hike imminently.

See a full list of energy companies' most recent price moves.

What prepay customers should do

  1. Switch prepay tariff. If you're on a standard prepay tariff, you're probably overpaying. Remember, compare now and it's a level playing field, as all price hikes and cuts are now factored into your comparison results.

  2. If possible, get a free standard meter. A normal electricity or gas meter (where you get bills) is cheaper. Many can save £220+/year by changing to a normal meter. So first try to convert or switch to a provider that'll do it for free. Be aware of the budgeting difficulties - some suppliers charge for credit meters.

  3. Fix your prepay price. Sadly, you can't get the top fixed deals if you're on a prepaid electric or gas meter. There is an option to fix with prepay, but only with a British Gas deal and the limited competition means it's far from cheap.

    See more details

Time To Switch alerts service: Want to be notified when it's the perfect time to switch? Get the free weekly email

How to compare prepay tariffs (and get cashback)

You can switch and save on prepaid gas or electric meters. Our Cheap Energy Club tool makes switching as easy as possible and helps you get no-hassle, permanently cheap gas and electricity.

All you need to do is tell it where you live and how much energy you use. Then we'll tell you if you're overpaying on your current deal or if there's a cheaper alternative.

But the best bit is we'll keep monitoring your tariff for you every month to ensure you're always on the best deal. Plus if we can switch you, you'll usually get £30 cashback.

Cheap Energy Club doesn't work perfectly for those that have one credit meter and one key/card meter. If that's you, it may be easier to use the comparisons below.

  • EnergyHelpline Overall top comparison service. £15 cashback per switch

    Our top pick, based on historical reliability, feedback and research, is Energyhelpline*, which pays £15 cashback (once) per switch whether separate gas and electricity or dual fuel.
  • Alternative top picks for freebies. £30 cash, £35-40 wine

    For a dual fuel switch - getting gas and electricity from one provider - you can get bigger freebies (one per household). Yet don't assume dual fuel is always cheapest. Check whether getting separate gas and electricity can undercut it, as it often can.

    £30 cashback: MoneySupermarket*
    6 bottles of wine (worth c.£40): uSwitch*

By specifically clicking via these special MoneySavingExpert.com links to get to the comparison sites and not going direct, you also get paid the cashback or freebies on top, provided they can switch you (see why they pay). It's usually paid in 45-90 days.

Remember you can still switch if you are in debt with your supplier. This debt will follow you to the new supplier.

If you've less than £500 debt per fuel, you can still switch supplier.

Renters have a right to switch too

If you rent your home, you can also save £50+ a year by switching, or much more if you've never switched. You don't need to own the property to do it, so don't just stick with the previous tenant's gas or electricity firm.

If you move in to a new home and want to know 'who supplies my gas?' Check with your landlord. The property may already be supplied on a more expensive, standard tariff.

When renting, you're free to switch, providing you pay the energy supplier directly (rather than paying your landlord).

You should also check your tenancy agreement - but even if your contract bans switching, Ofgem’s guidance on this states that if you pay the energy bill, you’re still entitled to change supplier at any time. You can still compare on Cheap Energy Club, even if you don't have the former occupants' bills.

We'd love to hear your experiences of switching as a renter on the Switching when renting forum discussion, especially if you've challenged your landlord.

Tenants can also print out our factsheet to give to landlords. It explains the rights that renters have to switch energy supplier, but in the meantime here are some pointers...

Pay the energy company directly? You CAN switch supplier

My tenancy agreement says I can't switch, help!

Landlord says you can't ditch supplier? Try a cheaper tariff

You may be able to switch from a prepay to a standard meter

You may be eligible for free insulation or a free boiler


Get a standard meter for bigger savings

The very cheapest energy tariffs are online deals for those who have credit meters, or normal, standard meters where you get bills, in other words. These meters measure your usage, then you receive a bill or pay by direct debit afterwards, rather than paying in advance.

Meters
  • Typical average prepay meter cost: £1,280
  • Typical cheapest prepay meter cost: £1,230
  • Typical cheapest credit meter cost: £1,013

Correct at March 2014. Based on average consumption for a typical house using a 'medium' amount of energy. These consumption figures dropped on 1 Jan 2014, as households use less energy. Therefore, average bills are now lower.

You'll often hear "prepaid gas and electricity users don't pay more now" - that's compared to bog-standard tariffs with normal bills. Standard meters offer a wider choice of tariffs including cheap online deals, direct debit discounts and more. It's simply a more competitive marketplace.

Things are better, but it's still an outrage some with prepay are among society's poorest. Others use the least energy, yet pay more. If you can, ditch and switch to a credit meter.

Before you take the plunge and consider switching to a credit meter, bear in mind:

How to get a credit meter for free

If you think a credit meter is right for you, follow these steps.

  • Find out how much your provider will charge to ditch your meter

    As you can see from the table below, some suppliers remove prepay meters and install bill meters for free if you meet their requirements, so it's always worth asking. Though almost always, you'll need to have paid off any existing debt. If you're renting, you may need your landlord's persmission first, so check your tenancy agreement first.

How much does your existing provider charge for a meter?
Energy supplier Meter cost What are the requirements? Do you have to stay with the supplier?
British Gas Free An account review and credit check. You mustn't be in debt, or have had a debt at your current/previous address in the last 12 months. You can't be in credit of over £50. No, and you don't have to pay for the meter, even if you switch to another supplier shortly after the swap.
Npower Gas: £60
Elec: £60
Can be free, so ask.
Your account history is reviewed to ensure you won't build up debt. You need to have been clear of debt for 12 months. No.
Scottish Power Gas: £62.90
Elec: £45.91
Your account history is reviewed to ensure you won't build up debt. A credit check is also done. It may ask for a deposit which will be returned in 12 months, with interest. No.
Scottish & Southern Energy Gas: £52
Elec: £52
A credit check and an agreement to set up a direct debit. No.
EDF Free No credit check. No.
E.On Free An external credit check. No.
Correct at March 2014.

NOTE: Switching to credit meters is at your supplier's discretion, so please tell us about your experience in the forum discussion.

Do you receive benefits or have a medical condition?

  • Threaten to leave if it isn't free

    If you've passed the credit checks which should, in theory, make you a desirable customer, but are still being asked to pay for removal of the meter, threaten to switch to another prepayment meter provider. Some suppliers may waive the charge to keep your custom.

  • Move to a provider that will give you a credit meter for free

    If you can't get a free meter from your own provider, consider switching to get a prepay tariff with one of the suppliers that does offer free credit meters.

    However, Ofgem rules state that if you have more than £500 debt per fuel with a supplier, you can be stopped from switching.

    Remember, there's no guarantee that if you do switch to another company, it will then allow you to get a credit meter. So if you're going to do this, use the chart above in conjunction with finding a cheap prepay provider. This will at least ensure you won't end up paying a lot more on prepay if you don't ditch the meter.

    If you're a new customer, it may be best to wait a few months to build up your payment history with the company.

Is it worth paying for a credit meter?

If you've tried everything to get a free credit meter and can't, it still may be worth paying, though it's NOT worth getting into debt for.

The cheapest prepayment meter tariff costs, on average, £1,230/year. Yet the cheapest tariff for credit meter customers is currently around £1,013/year, a saving of nearly £220. Balance the saving with the cost of swapping meter to help you decide.

As a rule of thumb, if you'll live there over two years and you're not struggling financially, it can be worth paying for a credit meter.

Never had a credit meter before? Quick tips

Credit meters are usually cheaper than prepayment meters, but it takes more effort to stay on top of bills. When you switch over, make sure you do the following:

Check if you're entitled to a rebate

Energy suppliers are obliged to help those in hardship. In the past, this was in the form of a social tariff, offering a discount off standard prices. This has been replaced with the Warm Home Discount.

It requires suppliers, by law, to help vulnerable customers pay for energy. It's mainly aimed at those who get pension credit. Suppliers also offer it to a wider group, although this is at their discretion - so call up and find out what your supplier will offer you.

Those who are eligible will get at least £140 towards bills from their energy supplier.

Use your meter the right way

  • RadiatorUse less energy. It's not just who you pay, but how much you use. Cutting energy is a mix of big and little things.

    Turn down the thermostat and wear jumpers, turn lights off when you leave a room, use energy-saving light bulbs, defrost the fridge and check it's not on too high, don't leave electrical goods on standby.

    For more info, read the Energy Saving Hunt discussion and see the Energy Saving Trust website.

  • Don't use emergency credit too often. Most suppliers provide around £6-10 emergency credit after your top-up runs out. But when you dip into the emergency credit it doesn't charge you the standing charge (the fixed charge you pay daily just to be connected), so the next time you top up you have to play catch-up, which can throw your budgeting out.

  • Going away? Make sure you top up enough. If you're going away, you need to leave enough credit on the meter to cover the daily standing charge, even if usage will be low. Otherwise you may find your credit runs out and appliances switch off while you're gone.

  • Moved house? Tell your supplier immediately. If you've moved into a home with a prepayment meter, tell the existing supplier immediately and don't use the old tenant's top-up card.

    Otherwise you may end up having to pay someone else's debt just to get an energy supply. The supplier must, under a code of conduct, reset the meter as soon as reasonably possible.

  • Ignore doorstep sellers. There have been previous scams involving doorstep sellers selling fraudulent top-up cards. The cards were normally sold in £50 denominations for the price of £25. They didn't work so it was totally wasted cash.

  • Prices are going up, so look at topping up now. This depends on your provider. But with British Gas, for example, the price charged by the meter won't increase until the first time you top up after the price hike. Anything you use before that first top-up will be charged at the old rate. As there is usually a maximum top-up, the benefit of this will be limited.
  • Keep your card safe. Lose your card and you'll usually be charged around £10 for a replacement. Any top-ups you've already made should be transferred to the new card (though EDF doesn't do this).

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