What to do if your energy supplier is trying to move you to prepayment
On 22 January 2023, the government called on energy suppliers to stop forcing customers over to prepayment without taking every possible step to help them with their money difficulties first. This follows reports that the number of customers being moved to prepayment has risen dramatically during the cost-of-living crisis and that courts are being overwhelmed with applications for warrants to forcibly enter people’s homes and install prepayment meters.
Despite the government’s crackdown, if you have energy bill arrears, your supplier may still try to move you to prepayment. As paying for your energy this way generally costs more, it makes sense to avoid it happening if you can.
In this guide, we look at what you should do if your energy supplier is trying to move you to prepayment.
What's in this guide?Try to agree an arrangement for your arrearsMake part paymentsPay less towards your other debtsMake sure your Direct Debit is reasonableFind out if you’re entitled to any benefitsCheck if you’re classed as vulnerableDon’t get a smart meterKnow your rightsUse less energy
Try to agree an arrangement for your arrears
If trying to repay your energy bill arrears is making your financial situation worse, you should speak to your supplier to see if you can agree a payment arrangement. We can help you with an income & expenditure statement that will show them how much you can afford to pay. If your supplier can see you’re actively looking to resolve the situation and are willing to make regular, affordable payments, they may be less inclined to go down the prepayment route.
Make part payments
Even if you can’t afford to pay the full amount you’re being asked for each month, it’s a good idea to pay something if you can. Making a part payment suggests that you’re doing your best and, again, may make your supplier less likely to try and move you to prepayment.
Pay less towards your other debts
Your energy bills are one of your priority debts. This means they should be paid ahead of non-priority debts such as unsecured loans and credit cards. If you need free advice on how to deal with your different debts, we’d be happy to help.
Make sure your Direct Debit is reasonable
If you think your Direct Debit is too high, you should ask your supplier to explain how they’ve calculated the amount they want you to pay. If it’s obviously wrong – for example if they’re basing it on a previous tenant who used much more energy than you – you can ask your supplier to change the amount.
Find out if you’re entitled to any benefits
The £400 all households received to help with their energy bills over the winter of 2022-23 is likely to be a one-off. Moving forward, most of the help for rising energy costs will go to people on benefits. So, it makes sense to use the government’s benefits calculators to check if you’re one of the millions of people in the UK who aren’t claiming the help they’re entitled to.
Check if you’re classed as vulnerable
Energy suppliers are required to offer additional support to people who are classed as vulnerable and, although this won’t necessarily stop them trying to move you to prepayment, it may make them think twice. This is because Ofgem says a customer shouldn’t be moved to prepayment without a proper assessment ‘including identifying any vulnerability’. And there are lots of reasons you may be considered vulnerable that aren’t necessarily obvious. For example, being pregnant/having young children or being over state pension age. You can find more information from Ofgem on who is considered vulnerable and what to do it you are.
Don’t get a smart meter
Once you have a smart meter, your supplier can change its settings so that it works on a prepayment basis without anyone having to come into your home, and without your agreement. So, if you don’t want to move to prepayment, don’t get a smart meter.
Know your rights
There are a variety of reasons an energy company isn’t allowed to move you onto prepayment. You can refuse if:
- A disability or an illness would put you at risk of harm if your energy supply was cut off
- You couldn’t get to your meter
- You couldn’t top up your meter – either because you couldn’t afford to, or you couldn’t get to a shop
- You don’t agree that you owe your supplier the money they’ve asked for and you’ve told them this e.g. if it’s a previous tenant’s debt
- They haven’t offered you other ways to pay off your debt e.g. a repayment plan
- They don’t give you seven days' notice before coming to your home to install a prepayment meter
- You haven’t been given at least 28 days to repay your debt before they write to you to say they want to move you onto prepayment
If any of these situations apply to you, you should let your supplier know. If they still want to move you to prepayment, you should complain.
However, you should be aware that if none of the situations apply to you, your supplier can force you to move to prepayment. If you refuse, they can install a meter forcibly by getting a warrant to enter your home or they can change your smart meter to the prepayment setting remotely. If they get a warrant, they’ll add this cost (up to £150) to your debt.
Use less energy
You can also try to make your energy bills more affordable by reducing the amount of gas and electricity you use. For a wide range of tips on how to do this, read our blog on 50 ways to save energy.