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Smart prepay energy user? Many suppliers will let you use Government payments on gas AND electricity, but two still aren't – here's what each firm is doing

Smart prepay energy user? Many suppliers will let you use Government payments on gas AND electricity, but two still aren't – here's what each firm is doing

Two of the largest energy firms in Britain, British Gas and Ovo, are still unable to confirm they'll let smart prepay customers use their £400 energy support payments on both electricity AND gas – despite gas being crucial for many people's heating this winter. As the second Government payment of £66 starts hitting meters, MoneySavingExpert.com is once again calling on these firms to let their customers decide how best to use it.

It is unfair – and potentially unsafe – not to let smart prepay users decide how to use the payment. While some suppliers are splitting the payment between gas and electricity, or letting customers move the payment on request, not all do. That's why we wrote to some of the biggest energy firms in Britain last month, urging them to give ALL prepayment meter customers the flexibility to use their payments on both electricity AND gas – ahead of the second payment on 1 November.

We're happy to report that Scottish Power has agreed to our ask, and will be creating a process for customers to redirect some or all of their support payment onto their gas meter from December onwards. So Energy and Utility Warehouse have also clarified their processes after we wrote to them.

But, with the second payment now being processed, British Gas has so far stuck to its position that the payments are to be used for electricity only, while Ovo (which owns Boost and SSE) is yet to confirm whether it will change its approach. We're once again asking these suppliers to give their prepay customers the flexibility to decide how best to use their Government payments.

If you're struggling to pay for energy, whether you're on prepay or not, see our Energy bill help guide.

'Energy suppliers should help customers now, before temperatures really plummet'

Gary Caffell, Head of Energy at MoneySavingExpert, said: "It is the gas meter that is crucial for many people's heating this winter – but some smart prepay customers are still only receiving support on electric bills. Many people who use smart prepay meters are vulnerable and they already pay more for their energy than others. To not give them the same flexibility as other customers is unfair and potentially unsafe during some very difficult months ahead.   

"We know that suppliers have moved fast to deliver these payments – but after we wrote to these firms, we hoped that all of them would manage to level the playing field by the time the second payment was due on 1 November. Some have, and we are grateful to them for taking action, but others are still only applying credit to electricity and not allowing anyone to request that be changed. People are already telling us they'd prefer to transfer it to gas to heat their homes – the choice is crucial for all those who think they’ll struggle this winter. We urge the remaining suppliers to reconsider and to help customers by allowing them to transfer credit to gas as soon as possible, before we see temperatures really plummet."

Without more flexibility, some may struggle to heat their homes

Prepay users with traditional meters can usually already decide where best to use the energy support payments, which come in six monthly instalments between now and March 2023, as in most cases they're sent as a voucher that can be used to pay for their electricity OR gas (the exception being British Gas, which only lets its customers use their vouchers on electricity). But for those with smart prepay meters, the payment is generally applied to their electricity meter by default – so they have less choice.

As prepay users pay upfront, they can't use gas if they don't have the available cash to put money on their meters. Combined with the wider cost of living crisis, this puts these people at a much higher risk of reaching a crisis point in the coming months. Some may simply not be able to afford to heat their homes.

Here are just a few of the comments we've seen about the issue:

Here's what energy firms are currently doing

The Government's Energy Bills Support Scheme launched in October, and will see households in England, Scotland and Wales with a domestic electricity account get a non-repayable grant of £400 between October 2022 and March 2023. It'll be paid as £66 in October and November, then £67 from December to March.

Exactly how you'll get the discount depends on how your supplier. The table below lists the latest info for smart prepay users that we've been told by firms – but we'll keep pushing for ones that don't allow you to split payments to sort this.

For non-smart prepay users, see our How you'll receive the £400 energy bill discount from your supplier MSE News story for details on how you'll be paid the cash.

How major energy suppliers pay the £400 grant for smart prepay users

Supplier

Can you split the £66/£67 payments between your gas and electricity smart meters?

British Gas

Payment made to electricity meter only

Boost
(owned by Ovo)

Payment made to electricity meter by default but, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch it to gas by contacting Boost (i)

Bulb

Payment made to electricity meter by default but you can switch it to gas by contacting Bulb

E.on / E.on Next

Payment split evenly between gas and electricity by default

EDF Energy

Payment made to electricity meter by default but you can switch some to gas by contacting EDF

Octopus Energy

Payment split evenly between gas and electricity by default

Ovo Energy

Payment made to electricity meter by default but, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch it to gas by contacting Ovo (i)

Scottish Power

Payment made to electricity meter only for now. From December onwards, you'll be able to switch some or all of it to gas

Shell Energy

Payment split evenly between gas and electricity by default

So Energy

Payment made to electricity meter by default but, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch it to gas by contacting So Energy (i)

SSE
(owned by Ovo)

Payment made to electricity meter by default but, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch it to gas by contacting SSE (i)

Utility Warehouse

Payment made to electricity meter by default but, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch it to gas by contacting Utility Warehouse (i)

Table correct as of 10 November 2022. (i) Ovo, which owns Boost and SSE, clarified its position after the initial publication of this story on 8 November 2022. (ii) After we wrote to them, So Energy and Utility Warehouse clarified that they would consider requests to switch credit to gas meters in certain circumstances, for example where you're close to running out of credit on your gas meter.

What do British Gas and Ovo say?

British Gas told us its customers could only use the Government help payments on electricity. It added that there is help and support available for any customers still struggling with their bills, including non-repayable grants from the British Gas Energy Trust – though these are only for those already in energy debt.

Ovo did not provide a statement for this piece, but it also offers hardship grants for those struggling, as well as offering payment holidays this winter for those repaying debts via their prepay meters (so that when you top up, all the money goes towards your usage rather than repaying debt).

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