You can't afford to top up your prepayment meter

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland

Talk to an energy adviser

Call our consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Lines are closed on bank holidays.

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Calls from mobiles and landlines are free.

Check the different ways to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.

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 to pay for your energy after you use it

It might not be safe and practical for you to be on prepayment if you:

  • are aged 75 or older and live alone

  • have children under 2 years old living in your home

  • are disabled or have a health condition

  • can’t afford to top up and live with children aged between 2 and 5 years old

If it isn’t safe and practical for you to be on prepayment, your supplier should move you to paying by credit, this means you pay for your energy after you use it.

If you have a smart meter your supplier can switch your meter to credit mode remotely. 

If you don’t have a smart meter, your supplier can replace your prepayment meter with a smart meter in credit mode.

Check how to switch from prepayment to payment by credit.

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

  • would struggle to answer the door or get help in an emergency

  • 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

  • have no sense of smell or you would struggle to smell gas

If you think you might be considered vulnerable, ask your supplier to add you to their priority services register. This means you’ll be able to get extra support. Check how to apply for the priority services register and what support you could get.

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 something is an energy scam

Some scammers are pretending to be from energy companies to get your personal information.

If you think something might be a scam: 

  • don’t give out any personal information or bank details

  • don’t use any contact details from the possible scam

You can check if something is a scam.

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

Check your fuel voucher to see when it expires. You might have to use it within 15 days.

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 can’t afford the repayments

You can ask your supplier to pause your repayments for a short amount of time. They must consider your situation but they don’t have to agree to a pause.

You can explain why pausing your repayment will help your situation. For example, tell them if you’ve lost your job and you’re looking for a new one or you’re waiting for a benefit payment.

If your supplier doesn’t agree to a repayment pause and you don’t think they’ve considered your situation, you can complain to your energy supplier.

If your supplier agrees to pause your repayments, you should agree with them how long your repayments will be paused for. 

Your supplier should contact you before they start taking any repayments again. They should check if you can afford the repayment amount. 

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. Tell your supplier if you need extra help. Explain anything that makes it harder for you to be on prepayment. For example, tell them if you:

  • are disabled

  • have a long term health condition

  • are over State Pension age

  • have children aged 5 and under living with you

  • have financial problems - for example if you are behind on rent

  • are recovering from an injury

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 need somewhere to stay warm

You can ask your local council if they have information about nearby ‘warm spaces’. These are public places that anyone can use to stay warm - for example a community space like a library.

You can find out how to contact your local council on GOV.UK.

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.

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need more help - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone, online chat or by email.

If you’re finding things difficult

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. You should talk to your GP if your money problems are affecting your mental health. 

You can find other ways to get help with your mental health on the Mind website.

If you need to speak to someone right now you can call the Samaritans for free.

Samaritans

Helpline: 116 123 (Monday to Sunday at any time)

Welsh Language Line: 0808 164 0123 (Monday to Sunday 7pm to 11pm)

Shout

You can also text 'SHOUT' to 85258 to start a conversation with a trained Shout 85258 volunteer. Texts are free, anonymous and confidential from anywhere in the UK.

If you think it's an emergency

If you think your life or someone else’s is at risk, you should call 999 or go to A&E if you can.

You can also find a list of urgent mental health services on the Mind website.

Further help

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

You won’t find many energy tariffs on price comparison websites at the moment - this is because of changes in the energy industry.

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

Important

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.

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