Gas and Electricity – How We Pay More As We Go

Considering that it is only made up of five letters, the word ‘metre’ offers a number of possibilities. A metre is the fundamental unit of length in the International System of Units. Previously defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the Earth’s equator to the North Pole (at sea level), since 1983, it has been defined as “the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.” In complete contrast it can also mean the rhythm of a piece of poetry or music. It is spelled ‘meter’ in the United States. In the UK a meter (spelt in the American way) denotes something different – a device which measures the quantity of something or the rate at which it is used – like the gas and electricity meters we have in our homes.

Different types of meter are used by the energy supply companies to charge us for the gas and electricity we use. Citizen Advice estimates that around 10.8 million people live in homes in which energy is supplied via prepayment meters. These will only allow gas and electricity to be supplied when an upfront payment has been registered on the meter. This is done by inserting cash into the meter or buying tokens or topping up a smart card at Pay Point or Payzone registered shops or the Post Office.

On the face of it this appears to provide a pay-as-you-go option which encourages proper budgeting of energy costs. There are drawbacks however

  • above average costs for gas and electricity;
  • the best energy deals on the market aren’t available to prepayment meter customers;
  • they can be inconvenient because you have to go out to ‘top up’ keys and smartcards and if you can’t reach a shop to top up your meter your energy can be switched off;
  • older meters need to have their prices updated manually after price rises or falls, which can take months. This means you could be left paying old rates and owing a lump sum or paying too much.
  • 16% of prepayment meter customers have experienced difficulty wither because they have lost pre-payment keys or as a result of the keys being damaged.

Starting this autumn, Citizens Advice is launching a campaign to secure a better deal for prepayment energy customers. The aims of the campaign  are:

  • better customer service and support with easier top ups
  • a fair choice of tariffs in line with other payment methods
  • a smarter prepay offer that works for consumers.

The use of prepayment meters is increasing. So, come and tell us about your experiences with prepayment meters so that we can build evidence in support of our campaign to get the energy companies to commit to fairer and smarter pre-pay energy offers. Contact your local CAB or call Peter Jackson at Citizens Advice on 03000 231119.

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