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British Gas customers struggle to top up prepayment meters after changes

British Gas customers struggle to top up prepayment meters after changes

British Gas prepayment meter customers have slammed the provider as they were left struggling to top up their supply on New Year's Day, following the company swapping its contract with PayPoint for Payzone.

Back in November, British Gas announced it had signed a new contract with Payzone's bill payment service – which is part of the Post Office – to serve its prepay customers, replacing its existing agreement with PayPoint.

Before 1 January 2020, PayPoint was one of the main ways of topping up prepayment meters for British Gas customers, with its terminals in 28,000 convenience retailers, including newsagents, supermarkets and garages. Customers could also make payments at 11,500 post offices (including at post office counters). But since New Year's Day, they've had to top up at one of Payzone's 13,000 locations, or the same post offices as now, reducing the number of top-up locations.

And customers have been telling MoneySavingExpert.com that the changes have caused "great inconvenience", with some saying they now have to walk half an hour to top up, compared to just minutes under the previous system.

If you're affected by the change, it is worth looking into switching to a standard credit meter, or whether there might be a better prepayment tariff available to you.

Check our Cheap Energy Club to see if you could switch and save, and see our Prepaid Gas and Electricity guide for more help on how to switch.

What are customers saying?

We spoke to several British Gas prepayment customers who were affected by the change on 1 January. Here's what they said:

  • Michael Carroll-Owen, 33, from South Yorkshire, said he wasn't able to top up his account on 1 January due to a lack of Payzone terminals. He said: "My nearest top-up point was 0.22 miles away, and now it's one mile. We've gone from having 12+ locations with easy access to topping up, to six or seven locations. However, they aren't easy to access. We'd have to travel, and elderly people would find it harder to access these locations."

  • Marc Evans, 44, from Kent, added: "Compared to two minutes down the road, I now have a 20-minute walk instead, which is fine for me as I'm able to do it, but not great for those less fortunate. I have managed to purchase a top-up, but at great inconvenience compared to the previous system. I used to have four local shops that I could top up at, now I have to venture into town to one of only two shops that now do it."

  • One MoneySaver, who didn't want to be named but lives in Essex, said: "I went to top up like normal on New Year's Day, and the shop said they were stopping offering the service. My local shop said to go to a garage, but I ended up at six different shops. I've complained and said they should have sent a pre-warning, as I didn't know anything at all."

I'm a British Gas prepay customer – how can I top up now?

If you're on prepayment meter, these are now your options:

  • Top up via Post Office and Payzone. British Gas customers can now top up at 11,500 local post office branches and 13,000 Payzone locations – click the links to find your nearest. This may mean longer journeys for some (those that did not previously use a Post Office), as you likely won't be able to top up in the same shop you did previously.

  • Top up online – if you can get smart prepayment meters installed. If you don't already have them, see if you're eligible to get Smart Pay As You Go meters with British Gas. These let you top up online, via a mobile app or over the phone. British Gas is now only installing the new version of smart meters – known as 'SMETS 2' – which maintain all functionality when you switch supplier, something the older version didn't do.

As part of the changes to topping up, from 1 January the minimum top-up for most British Gas prepay customers has risen from £1 to £5.

See if you can switch to a standard credit meter to save £100s/year

While prepay can be a good way to manage how much you spend on energy, it's generally the most expensive way to pay, so see if you can switch your meter, and if not, make sure you at least consider switching to the cheapest prepay tariff.

  • Switch to a standard credit meter. If you can, moving off prepayment and onto standard billed meters – where you pay for your energy via direct debit, or cash or cheque – is the best option to save, as standard billed meters offer much lower gas and electricity rates. The cheapest standard billed meter tariff is over £300/year cheaper on typical use than British Gas's prepayment tariff. With British Gas, you'll need to pass a credit check to change your meters, though others don't require this, so you could switch provider then change meter – providing you're not in debt to your energy firm. See Cheap Prepaid Gas & Electricity for more.

  • Switch your prepay tariff. Bulb offers the cheapest at £944/yr, plus you get £25 MSE dual-fuel cashback if you switch via our Cheap Energy Club. According to the supplier, you can top up at both PayPoint and Payzone locations.

What does British Gas say?

A British Gas spokesperson said: "We wrote to all of our customers to inform them about the change in December – this was either by email or post depending on whether we had email addresses for the customer.

"It is vital that our customers are able to access this important service and we are working closely with Payzone to ensure that we meet the demands of our customers. We have undertaken an analysis of the areas impacted by the change and Payzone has committed to work with British Gas to increase its reach in areas where we foresee we will need additional services."

A Payzone spokesperson said: "Our agreement with British Gas enables their customers to access bill payment services in 24,000 Payzone and Post Office locations. Nationally, 94% of the population live within one mile of a post office or Payzone outlet and over 99% of the population has access within three miles. Payzone is working with British Gas to fill in any gaps in areas where a Payzone outlet could operate."