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You can't afford to top up your prepayment meter

This advice applies to Scotland

You can get temporary credit if you can’t afford to top up your meter. Your supplier might add this to your meter automatically when you run out of credit, or you might have to contact them and ask.

If you have a prepayment meter because you’re repaying a debt to your supplier, you can ask them to reduce the amount you repay each week.

Find out who your energy supplier is if you’re not sure.

If you need a normal meter

Your supplier has to replace your prepayment meter with a normal meter (one that lets you pay for energy after you use it, rather than before) if you have a disability or illness that makes it:

  • hard for you to use, read or put money on your meter

  • bad for your health if your electricity or gas is cut off

Get temporary credit

If you've run out of gas or electricity, your energy supplier should give you temporary credit if you can't top up, for example because:

  • you can't afford it
  • you're having problems topping up

Your supplier might add the temporary credit to your meter automatically - if they don’t, you should ask for it as soon as you can. You can check your supplier’s website to find out how to get temporary credit.

Some suppliers will need to send someone to put money on your meter. Your supplier could charge you a fee if they have to come to your home to add temporary credit. They won't charge you if they can do it remotely or if it’s their fault - for example if a fault in your meter meant you couldn’t top up.

Check if you can get extra temporary credit

If you need extra temporary credit, you should explain your situation to your supplier. They might give you extra temporary credit if they think you’re ‘vulnerable’ - for example, if you’re:

  • disabled or have a long term health condition

  • over state pension age

  • struggling with your living costs

You’ll have to pay any extra temporary credit you get back - you can agree how to pay it back with your supplier. To get extra temporary credit, you should tell your supplier if:

  • you’ve run out of gas or electricity

  • you’re limiting the amount of gas or electricity you use to save money - for example if you can’t afford to put the heating on

Paying back money you owe to your supplier

If you owe money to your supplier, you’ll pay back a bit of the debt each time you top up your meter. For example, if you top up by £10, £5 of that might go to paying back your debt, leaving you with £5 of credit.

Tell your supplier if you can’t afford this. Ask them to reduce the amount you pay back each time you top up.

Your supplier has to take into account how much you can afford, so tell them if anything has changed since you first agreed your repayments. For example, if your income has decreased.

If you use electricity for heating

Some suppliers add up heating separately. Unless you mention your electric heating, they might reduce the amount you pay back on the rest of your electricity, but leave your heating repayments the same.

If you keep running out of credit

If you run out of credit you’ll build up extra debt to your supplier, for example you'll need to pay back any emergency credit you use. You can agree how to pay it back with your supplier.

If it feels like you’re running out of credit too quickly, paying off debt could be the problem. Ask your supplier to let you pay it off weekly rather than in one go.

If you can, try to top up with more money than usual after running out of credit. 

Tell your supplier if you need extra support

Your supplier has to treat you fairly and take your situation into account. Make sure they know about anything that could make it harder for you to pay. For example, tell them if you:

  • are disabled
  • have a long-term illness
  • are over state pension age
  • have young children living with you
  • have financial problems - for example if you are behind on rent

Also ask whether you can be put on your supplier’s priority services register.

Check that you’re not paying someone else’s debt

If you’ve recently moved home, you could be paying off the debt of someone who lived there before you. Make sure your supplier knows when you moved in to avoid this happening.

Check that your meter is working properly

Meter faults are rare but can be expensive. Check whether your meter is faulty if you’re running out of credit too quickly and nothing else seems to be wrong.

Further help

Contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or the Citizens Advice consumer service if you need more help or advice about stopping your supplier installing a prepayment meter. 

Citizens Advice consumer service (Scotland)
Tel: 0808 223 1133 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)

The Citizens Advice consumer service will provide energy and postal service advice to Scottish consumers. You can find out more about the service, including how to get in touch online, on Contact the consumer helpline

If you’re in debt, you might be able to get financial help with paying for your energy.

You might also be able to save money on your gas and electricity, for example by switching to another supplier. Having a prepayment meter doesn’t stop you switching unless you owe your current supplier more than £500 for gas or £500 for electricity.

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