Citizens Advice has found that 65% of people who we see who are on pre-payment meters because they are IN DEBT to their power supplier, are either disabled or have a long-term health condition. This compared to 33% who have no disability or health problems.
Brian* came to us to ask what he should do. He had got behind with his payments to his power company and they were suggesting that he should go onto a pre-payment meter. Brian is in his 80s and lives alone. He said he was finding it hard to keep up with his expenses with all the price rises over the last year. He had heard that pre-payment meters could cause problems for some people, so he wanted to know why.
Our adviser asked Brian if his power supplier had offered to work with him to see what would be the best way forward for him. Brian said they had not contacted him about options, so the adviser told him that suppliers are required to work with customers to agree on payment plans they can afford.
Brian could ask for:
- A review of payments and debt repayments
- Payment breaks or reductions
- More time to pay
- Access to hardship funds
- Priority Service registration
Brian thought that one or more of these options would probably solve his problem, but wanted to know how a pre-payment meter would work as well.
The adviser explained that:
- If you have a pre-payment meter you pay for your gas or electricity before you use it on a pay-as-you-go basis.
- You do this by buying credit, usually with a key or smart card, and adding this to the meter.
- You also need to be aware that each day a small standing charge is added to your bill. If you don’t use any gas or electricity these charges will still be deducted from any credit you have left and when you top up again, the outstanding standing charges will be deducted first.
Brian asked what would happen if he ran out of credit and couldn’t get to the shops to top his card or key up?
The adviser said that suppliers must supply emergency support:
- Emergency credit if your meter runs low or runs out
- Friendly hours credit if top-up-points are closed and your meter is running low. You can access this overnight, at weekends and on public holidays
- Extra support credit if you are in a vulnerable situation and have few options to pay or while you work out ways to pay if you are in a vulnerable situation
“Just one more question” said Brian “Could they force me to have a pre-payment meter?”
Suppliers must offer a range of ways to pay back a debt. A pre-payment meter is one option if it is safe, practical, and easy for a customer to use, but a supplier can only force-fit a pre-payment meter by court warrant after all reasonable steps have been taken to agree payment. It should be the last resort to avoid disconnection and can’t be used for people in vulnerable situations if they don’t want one.
Brian thanked the adviser for all the information about his options and said he obviously needed to speak to his supplier and work something out. He would try to phone. The adviser said he could come back if he had difficulty contacting his supplier and offered to make an appointment for him to have a benefit check to see if there was anything else he could apply for.
*Name changed to preserve confidentiality
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