One hundred and forty thousand households were left without gas or electricity this winter because they didn't have enough money to top up their prepayment meter, Citizens Advice is warning.

The charity has today revealed the majority of these households, 120,000, are classed as vulnerable as there are either children or someone with a long-term health condition in the home.

It discovered just 9% of those who couldn't afford to top up contacted their supplier for help, and so it is now calling for more preventative help for those in need.

See our Cheap Prepaid Gas and Electricity guide for more information.

What did Citizens Advice find?

The charity carried out its research between December 2017 and January this year, and says 140,000 households, equating to about 400,000 people 'self-disconnected' as they ran out of cash to top up their meter. Of these it said:

  • 50% had someone with a mental health condition
  • 33% contained a young child
  • 87% were in receipt of benefits

It found 640,000 households in total were unable to top up their meter, including the 140,000 who were unable to top up due to lack of money. Other reasons included being unable to access the meter or having a faulty meter.

The charity said 65% of homes on a prepayment meter have a child or someone with a long-term health condition.

I can't top up my meter - what can I do?

If you're on a prepayment meter and are struggling to heat your home contact your supplier or Citizens Advice to see what help is available. You can also try:

  • Switching to a credit meter – you'll be able to get cheaper gas and electricity and often won't have to pay to swap meters.
  • Switching to a cheaper prepayment tariff – use our Cheap Energy Club tool to switch and save.
  • Checking if you're eligible for the £140 Warm Home Discount – it's available to those on pension credit or low income families.
  • Checking for other grants and help – see our Housing and Energy Grants guide.

What does Citizens Advice say?

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "It unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light.

"For some people self-disconnection is easily managed, but for many others it is an extremely stressful experience that can have harmful physical and emotional effects.

"While some suppliers are now offering support to prepayment meter customers, industry and the Government need to do more.

We need better mechanisms to identify vulnerable customers, better coordination between suppliers and government agencies and we need suppliers to ensure that when people’s health is at risk alternative ways to pay are offered."