Can I be forced onto a pre-payment energy meter?

Date:

A local expert from Citizen’s Advice provides timely tips on consumer issues.

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Q: “I currently pay for my electricity via direct debit but recent fuel price increases mean that some months I am struggling to afford to pay my bill. I read in the newspaper that my energy supplier might try to force me onto a prepayment meter. Can they do this?”

A: “Yes they can in some circumstances, and this can have devastating consequences for people who then cannot afford to top-up their meters.
Citizens Advice knows that some people prefer to be on prepayment meters for budgeting reasons or because it stops debt collection, including threats of bailiff visits and unexpected bills but last year, 3.2 million people across Great Britain ran out of credit because they couldn’t afford to top up their meter.
When a prepayment meter isn’t topped up the household electricity or gas supply is completely disconnected. From its latest work, Citizens Advice knows that more than two million people are being effectively disconnected at least once a month and that almost one in five prepayment meter customers who were cut off in the past year then spent at least 24 hours without gas or electricity. This is particularly dangerous for disabled and otherwise vulnerable customers.
Your supplier can’t make you move to prepayment if it wouldn’t be safe or practical. This means you can refuse to move to prepayment if an illness or disability means you’d be harmed if your gas or electricity was cut off. However, research shows that the rules are not always being followed. As a result, Citizens Advice asked the government to put in place new protections to stop people being fully cut off from gas and electricity and the Business Secretary is now calling on suppliers to do more to protect vulnerable energy users.
If you are struggling to top up a prepayment meter, please talk to your energy provider as soon as possible. You might be able to get temporary credit or your supplier might add this to your meter automatically. If you run out of temporary credit you should explain your situation to your supplier. They might give you extra temporary credit under certain circumstances, including if you’re disabled, have a long-term health condition or if you are above the state pension age. For more help with this, please check the information on the Citizens Advice website on the prepayment rules your supplier has to follow or contact your local Citizens Advice office.
Information is correct at time of writing.

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