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Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec

Get a standard meter, or switch & save

By Archna and Marcel | Edited by Martin

Updated 9 Feb 2016

If you've got a prepaid gas or electric meter, your options are finally getting better. There are now cheap fixed tariffs available that help you save AND beat future price hikes.

Prepayment meters are electricity and gas meters that let you pay for your energy on a pay-as-you-go basis. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, around 4.5m UK homes use them.

You top up via a key or card, which you can credit at newsagents, post offices, garages, or sometimes online. While they can help to budget, you usually end up paying more for energy. This guide shows you how to switch provider or change meter to save £100s.

Now is the time to switch and save

With the cold really biting, but it's still a great time for prepay meter users to switch. Cheap deals aren't always around for prepay users, so it's worth checking what's out there (alongside options for getting a standard meter for even bigger savings).

Fixed tariffs freeze the price of each unit of energy you use for a set time. Always watch out for exit fees though – they're what you'll be charged if you leave before the tariff ends.

OUR TOP PICKS (based on typical usage)
Remember! These are average prices. Always do a comparison.
  Supplier Fixed for/until Exit fee Cost/year Service feedback (1)
Typical big six standard prepay tariff - - - £1,163 -
Cheap fix but no service feedback E 1 year fixed 12mths None £1,050 None
Cheap with good service BUT not fixed Ovo Energy Smart PAYG* Variable None £1,058 85% great
5% poor
Cheap 12mth fix EDF Blue+ Fixed Prepay Feb 2018 28 Feb 2018 None £1,096 55% great
12% poor
Cheap non-prepay tariff (2) GB Energy Variable None £765 (3) 62% great
17% poor
Correct at Feb 2016. All tariffs assume Ofgem medium usage. Varies by region. (1) For each firm, not tariff, based on MSE poll of 5,452 people, Nov 2015. (2) Full options in Cheap Gas & Elec. (3) Monthly direct debit.

In addition to being one of the cheapest prepay tariffs on the market right now, Ovo's PAYG (Online) tariff comes with a smart meter and access to its free PAYG+ app (iPhone and Android), which allows top-ups via it.

You can also top-up online and by text, and it allows you to set automatic top-ups if your credit falls below a certain limit. See the Ovo Energy PAYG app MSE news story for details.

Latest price changes

Last year suppliers hiked prices, then subsequently trimmed them – and this year providers are further cutting prices.

See full info on recent energy hikes and cuts

How to compare prepay tariffs (and also grab 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 constantly cheap gas and electricity.

Cheap Energy Club

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.

It's also worth checking out the comparisons below – they offer cashback options too.

The limitations of comparison sites – they don't always show all tariffs

Bear in mind that some comparison sites by default only show you tariffs you can switch to via them (ie, where they're paid commission). This filters out some results unlike Cheap Energy Club which shows you ALL those available by default and always has done.

If you do use a comparison site always check you're seeing all available tariffs to get the full picture before making a decision. Since March 2015, comparison sites covered by Ofgem's Confidence Code must show all available tariffs by default, making this much easier – you can check what sites are covered.

  • EnergyHelpline Overall top comparison service. £34 cashback per switch.

    Energyhelpline* has a history of good reliability and good feedback on our forum. It pays £17 cashback per fuel per switch if you do it online.

  • 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 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.

If you've less than £500 debt per fuel, you can still switch supplier. This debt will follow you to the new supplier.

Renters have a right to switch too

If you rent your home, you can also save £100s by switching, especially if you've never switched. You don't need to own the property to do it, you're free to switch providing you pay the energy supplier directly.

You should check your tenancy agreement to see what it says about switching. But even if your contract bans it, Ofgem's guidance states that if you pay the energy bill, you're still entitled to change supplier.

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. You can still compare on Cheap Energy Club, even without the former occupants' bills.

Moving in to a new home? Check with the landlord

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 in other words. They measure your usage, then you receive a bill or pay by direct debit afterwards, rather than paying in advance.

Typical average prepay meter cost: £1,163 Typical cheapest prepay meter cost: £1,050 Typical cheapest credit meter cost: £765
Correct at Feb 2016. Based on average consumption for a typical house using a 'medium' amount of energy.

Standard meters offer a wider choice of tariffs including cheap online deals, direct debit discounts and more. It's simply a more competitive marketplace.

Choices are opening up for prepay users, but it's still an outrage that some of society's poorest often pay more for their energy with these. 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:

You may be credit-checked

A new meter might cost

You may have to pay for the meter if you change supplier

It's easier to get into fuel debt on a credit meter

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. Almost always though, you'll need to have paid off any existing debt. If you're renting, you may need your landlord's permission 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 can'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 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 can't be in debt on your account. 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 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 direct debit. No
    EDF Free No credit check, but you must repay any outstanding debt first. No
    E.On Free A credit check. No
    Correct at Jan 2015.

    Please 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 supplier. 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.

    Ditched your prepay meter? Tell us how it went!

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, roughly £1,050/year. Yet the cheapest tariff for credit meter customers is currently around £750/year, a saving of £300. 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:

Once you've switched, ensure you're on the cheapest tariff

Every time you receive a bill, do a meter reading

Paying by direct debit is much cheaper

If you're struggling to pay, speak to your provider

Check if you can get a £140 discount

Energy suppliers are obliged to help those in hardship. One way they do it is by providing the Warm Home Discount. Essentially it's a £140 discount on your electricity bill, although the deadline has passed for this winter so it won't be available until winter 2016/17.

Warm Home Discount - GovUk

The overall scheme requires suppliers, by law, to help vulnerable customers pay for energy. It's available for customers who receive pension credit, so if this applies to you and you've a prepay meter, you can get it too. The final decision rests with suppliers – so call up and find out what your supplier will offer you.

For full help on getting free cash to help pay utility arrears, or freebies to cut energy bills, see our Housing and Energy Grants guide.

Use your meter the right way

You can also make significant savings simply by making sure you use your prepay meter in the right way. Here are a few top tips:

  • 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.

  • Top up before price hikes

    This depends on your provider. But when British Gas, for example, last hiked prices, the price charged by the meter didn't increase until the first time you topped up after the hike. Anything used before that first top-up was 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).

How to complain about your energy provider

The energy industry isn't known for having great customer service across the board, and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common prepay problems include faulty cards, incorrect bills and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool if you're having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services.