Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

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. 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.

If you run out of temporary credit

Explain your situation to your supplier. They might give you extra temporary credit if they agree you're ‘vulnerable’. You might be vulnerable if you're disabled or have a long-term health condition. This includes hearing, sight and mental health conditions. You might also be vulnerable if you're recovering from an injury. 

Your supplier might also agree you're vulnerable if you:

  • are over State Pension age - check your State Pension age on GOV.UK
  • are struggling with your living costs - for example, you’re limiting the amount of gas or electricity you’re using
  • can’t get to a shop to top up - for example, if you’re ill
  • are pregnant or have children under the age of 5
  • need extra help with communication - for example, if you don’t read or speak English very well

You might still be able to get extra support if your specific situation isn’t listed. Contact your supplier to explain your situation and ask for extra credit.

You’ll have to pay back any extra temporary credit you get. You can agree how to pay it back with your supplier.

Check if you could get an energy grant

You might be able to get certain benefits, grants and help offered by the government and energy suppliers.

Check what grants or benefits you could get to help you pay your energy bills.

Check if you can get a fuel voucher

You might be able to get a fuel voucher. This is a code given to you in a letter or in a text message or email. You can use it to add credit to your gas card or electricity key. If you don't have one of these, contact your supplier to get one. 

Your local council might be able to help you get a fuel voucher - find your local council on GOV.UK. If you’re still not sure if you can get a voucher, get help from an adviser.

You can use a fuel voucher at:

To use your voucher you’ll need to take:

  • the code and instructions

  • some form of ID - for example, your passport or a bill with your name and address

You must use your fuel voucher within 3 months after you get it.

If you have problems using your voucher, contact the organisation that gave it to you - you should be able to find their contact information on the instructions.

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, tell them if:

  • the price of your energy has gone up
  • your income has gone down

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 in smaller amounts.

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.

If you’re struggling with living costs

If you’re struggling with money, there are things you can do to save on your regular living costs. Check what to do if you need help with living costs.

If you’re finding it hard to pay your bills, you can get help. Find out more about getting help with your bills.

You can also get help with debts.

If you're struggling to pay for food, find out how to get help from a food bank.

If you need more advice contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's energy advice service.  

Advice Direct Scotland energy advice

Freephone: 0808 196 8660
Website: energyadvice.scot

Further help

You might also be able to save money on your gas and electricity, for example by switching to another supplier.

If you look on a price comparison website, you won't find as many tariffs as usual - this is because many energy companies are struggling. If you don’t find a better tariff than the one you’re already on, it’s probably better to wait until deals are available again.

Having a prepayment meter doesn’t stop you switching unless you owe your current supplier more than £500 for gas or £500 for electricity.

If your energy supplier goes bust 


Don’t switch tariff or supplier until your account is moved to the new supplier. You might find it harder to get any money you’re owed if you switch before this happens. 

Read our advice about what to do if your energy supplier goes bust.

Did this advice help?
Why wasn't this advice helpful?

Please tell us more about why our advice didn't help.

Did this advice help?

Thank you, your feedback has been submitted.