In a time when technologically-advanced smart meters are poised to roll out to most of the UK, isn’t it about time energy companies dragged prepayment meters into the 21st century?
Consumer Focus has found that one in eight UK households rely on prepayment meters. That’s almost nine million people putting coins in their gas and electric slot machines.
Worryingly though, over a million of these folk have cut off their own energy supply in the past year. Which raises the question – how many people actually choose to have them installed? We’d expect not many.
Sure, they can help manage your energy usage, but many prepaid meters are forced upon rental or local council tenants. Precisely the people who can’t afford such expensive energy tariffs.
Switching prepayment tariffs is a chore
Using prepayment meters shouldn’t mean paying more for energy. Suppliers boast that prepayment tariffs are generally on par with ‘standard’ pay-quarterly prices – but it’s no secret that these are actually amongst the most expensive.
Plus, it’s difficult – although not impossible – to switch tariffs on prepayment meters. And when you do switch, you’re given a tiny choice of tariffs that (surprise, surprise) don’t include the very best prices (typically offered online, when you agree to pay by direct debit).
Energy companies should be obliged to give (and even promote) information about changing tariffs and about the process of switching to a conventional meter. Each of the energy companies had different policies when we looked into switching meters – some replaced them for free, with others charging up to £60.
Prepayment meters should be modernised
The problems don’t stop there. Why aren’t prepayment meters as convenient as prepay mobile phones? Most rely on arduous, outdated systems – such as buying tokens from a nearby shop (if it’s open!). Whereas you should be able to ‘top-up’ online or by text. Why pay a ‘premium’ and not receive a premium-class metering system?
Thankfully, a number of suppliers, including Scottish Power, have introduced a new online ‘pay as you go’ system, which enables you to add credit in the comfort of your own. A step in the right direction that we’d like to see rolled out on a wider scale.
Prepayment meters are in such a mess that it’s driven over a million people to intentionally cut off their supply. Either because they don’t have enough money to top up or because the place where they buy credit is shut. Many of these households are home to someone with an illness or disability.
Topping up your energy should be convenient and affordable – so when are energy companies going to move them into the 21st century.