Pre-payment meters - the FAQs


20 September 2021

With winter just around the corner, energy bills don’t have to be a worry. Not only is there a lot of support out there, but there are also different options you can look into.

We’ve pulled together a handy FAQ guide explaining all you need to know about different meters, payment options and switching suppliers.

Many thanks to the Kent Panel for suggesting this article. If you’d like to find out more about prepayment meters, get help with comparing tariffs, or anything related to saving energy, why not book a FREE appointment with a Green Doctor from Groundwork! They can visit you in your home, or provide bespoke advice on the phone or virtually.

Want to find out more or join your local panel? Please email or complete our online form Optivo - Getting involved - Online Form


What is a prepayment meter?

Prepayment meters measure how much electricity or gas you use and let you pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

You top up prepayment meters via a key or card, which you can buy credit for at newsagents, post offices and garages, or via an app or online.

With prepayment meters you pay for the energy you use plus a daily standing charge, sometimes referred to as a ‘trickle charge’. The standing charge can range from 5p to 80p. It will be taken from your credit each day, even if you’re not using any gas or electricity.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters measure how much electricity or gas you use and send this information to your energy supplier automatically. Smart meters can work in both prepayment and credit meter form (but not all suppliers offer the prepayment option yet).

How do the different meters compare?

Pre-payment meters are seen as the best choice for people who have problems budgeting, since you can’t use more energy than you’ve paid for.  
The downside is you will usually pay more for your gas and electricity than someone on a credit meter.

Credit meters give you access to the cheapest prices for gas and electricity, but you must remember to submit meter readings regularly to ensure you’re not over or under charged (otherwise it can be complicated to sort out later on!)

Smart meters remove the hassle of submitting meter readings for credit customers. For pre-payment customers they make it easier to top up since you can do it remotely (if your supplier offers this). Smart meters also make it easier to switch between prepayment and credit meter types since it can be done remotely (you don’t need an engineer to come out and switch your meter).

I have a pre-payment meter, can I switch suppliers?

Yes! Provided you haven’t got a debt of more than £500 with your current provider. 

Even though there are fewer deals available on prepayment meters, it’s still worth shopping around. If you’re currently on one of the Big Six’s standard pre-payment tariffs, you could save up to £230 per year if you switch to one of the cheapest prepayment tariffs.
The best way to research the cheapest deal is to use an online comparison site. We recommend Money Saving Expert’s Cheap Energy Club comparison tool, because it shows you ALL available tariffs, not just those the comparison site earns commission from.

I have a pre-payment meter, can I switch to a credit meter?

Yes, and the Big Six will swap the meters for free. But, nearly all suppliers require you to have paid any outstanding debt on your energy account and be credit scored, so they can see if there's a risk you won't repay.

Is it possible to have a debt on a prepayment meter?

Yes, there are a few ways it’s possible to have debt on your pre-payment meter:
  1. Debt accrued from having a credit meter in the past. If you’ve been in debt whilst on a credit meter in the past, your energy supplier may have installed a prepayment meter to help you budget. The debt will have been added onto the prepayment meter, usually with a repayment rate.
  2. Debt from a standing charge. Every day you pay a standing charge, simply for having the meter. If you don’t have any credit on your meter the money you owe for the standing charge will build up as a debt. Next time you top up, the money will automatically pay off the standing charge debt.
  3. Debt from emergency credit. When you’re using emergency credit, the meter doesn’t take the daily standing charge, so it builds up as debt. When you next top up and go into credit, some of that credit will go to paying off the standing charge debt.
  4. Debt from a previous resident. If you’ve recently moved into your home and the meter has debt on it, this will be from the previous resident. You’ll need to take action to ensure you don’t pay it. Contact your energy supplier and they’ll guide you through the process. You will need a copy of your tenancy agreement, contact us to request this.

What is a credit meter? (also known as a ‘standard’ meter)

Standard meters measure how much electricity or gas you use but, instead of paying for your gas or electricity as you use it, you pay every quarter or monthly. You need to submit meter readings to your energy company to make sure you pay the right amount.  You can pay by direct debit, cash or cheque.

What is the Big Six?

The six biggest energy suppliers: British Gas, Eon, SSE, EDF, Scottish Power and nPower.