With many energy suppliers and sources of support closed over the Christmas and New Year periods, it’s important that we get our ducks in a row early enough to make sure that we don’t go off supply.
With approximately 300,000 prepayment customers in Scotland, it is important for us to understand how this type of meter works; what we can do in emergency or short-term situations; and longer-term sources of support that are available when we need them.
What is a prepayment meter?
A prepayment meter is a type of meter that has a key or card that you use to top up energy. Depending on the setup of the energy supplier, you may be able to top up through PayPoint outlets, Payzone stores, Post Offices, or both.
Prepayment meters tend to be more expensive to run, with higher standing and unit charges than a traditional credit meter.
When a customer is in a considerable amount of energy debt, a supplier may recommend or enforce the switch to a prepayment meter to allow the debt to be paid back through regular top ups.
A prepayment meter runs down credit, until it is topped up again. There are features on a prepayment meter known as ‘emergency’ and ‘friendly’ credit.
Let’s look at some of the key prepayment terminology; what this means to our access to energy; and how we can get support if we are struggling this festive period.
Emergency credit is an amount of credit (usually up to £10) added to your meter. Emergency credit is there to make sure you stay on supply if you cannot top up. You need to manually activate your emergency credit when you are running low on credit on the meter.
For smart meters, this can be done on the display; and for traditional prepayment meters, removing and replacing the top up card or key will activate this.
Any emergency credit used will need to be repaid. This is paid back when you top up.
Some meters have the ‘friendly credit’ feature available, which prevents prepayment customers from losing supply outside shop opening hours, overnight, weekends, and bank holidays.
Friendly Credit is paid back when you top up.
The times for friendly credit vary, and some suppliers do not offer the facility on more traditional meter set ups.
Important – If your meter is out of credit and off supply before a certain time (and has run out of emergency credit too), very often friendly credit won’t be available, and you will have to top up as soon as possible. Friendly credit will automatically activate if you go off supply (including emergency credit) during your suppliers designated friendly credit hours.
Debts / Standing Charges
Any top ups you make will pay back any emergency or friendly credit that you have used. It will also take the sum for any debt being repaid through the meter, and any standing charges (the daily amount paid for ‘renting’ the meter) you have incurred during the period where emergency or friendly credit was in use.
Important – If you have been disconnected due to using up emergency and / or friendly credit, you will need to top up enough to repay the amount used and put the meter into a positive balance before you will be able to reconnect your supply again. This will usually be at least £1 of positive balance, but this may vary depending on your supplier.
If you are repaying debt through the meter, this will continue to be deducted from your credit balance during the day and will happen regardless of whether there is positive or negative balance / and whether you are using emergency / friendly credit.
Energy UK Vulnerability Commitment
Most suppliers have signed up to the ‘Energy UK Vulnerability Commitment’, which is an agreement to uphold protections for certain groups of vulnerable people.
If your supplier has signed up to this, they will not disconnect you from supply at any time of the year if there are children under the age of six living in the home.
Priority Service Register (PSR)
You can sign up to the Priority Service Register through your supplier, which may also help in the event your power / gas is interrupted.
This is a register for people deemed ‘vulnerable’, and who may require additional assistance / support with their energy supply.
There are various reasons why you may be eligible to sign up to the Priority Service Register, including children in the home; medical equipment that requires a continuous energy supply; medical / health conditions / disabilities; age; and more.
You should reach out to your supplier to discuss being added to the register if you believe you may be eligible.
If you are vulnerable, you should be kept safe when you are on a prepayment meter. This means they should not install one unless it is safe, practical, and reasonable to do so.
More information on vulnerability is available through the energyadvice.scot website.
The Energy Bill Support Scheme (EBSS)
The UK Government has put together a package of support for all eligible UK households that will see £400 provided to help offset energy price increases through the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS).
The Energy Bills Support Scheme is a £400 discount that is being applied to the energy bills of all UK households to help with the cost of energy bills from the 1st of October 2022. This is being paid in installments as follows –
- October 2022– £66
- November 2022 –£66
- December 2022 –£67
- January 2023 –£67
- February 2023 –£67
- March 2023 –£67
At the time of writing (16.12.22), you should have received your first two installments, with a third on the way.
It is important that if you have not received these vouchers, that you reach out to your energy supplier to enquire about this, as these have a 90-day expiry date on them.
The team at energyadvice.scot can help if you are struggling to get in contact with your supplier (details below).
What can we do if we are struggling with energy costs / prepayment top ups?
There are different sources of support available when we are struggling with energy costs, or if there is a chance we could go off supply:
When we are struggling with energy costs, our supplier is a good first point of contact. Suppliers may be able to offer support, such as discretionary credit / top ups, or even refer you on to sources of support that they have access to, such as hardship funds.
Advice Direct Scotland run energyadvice.scot, Scotland’s national energy advice service, providing free, practical advice and information on energy-related matters and can answer energy-related enquiries.
The team can also help facilitate conversations with your energy supplier if you are having difficulty getting through to them on their usual numbers.
Specialist advisers are available on 0808 196 8660 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm), or through the www.energyadvice.scot.
Opening hours are slightly different over the Christmas period, with the organisation closed Saturday to Tuesday of each holiday week, so it is important to reach out as soon as you can.
The Scottish Government’s Home Heating Support Fund
The Scottish Government’s Home Heating Support Fund seeks to provide financial relief to energy consumers who are experiencing significant financial hardship.
The team can work with you to assess your current situation and potentially provide funding to help you.
You can find more about the fund by visiting the website at www.homeheatingadvice.scot.
The team at advice.scot can make referrals on to the fund. You can call them on 0808 800 9060 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm).
It is important to note that the Home Heating Support Fund should not be used for emergency situations, or if you are off-supply / disconnection is happening soon.