Prepayment meters – the complete guide

Whether you’ve recently moved into a new property with a prepayment meter already installed, or you’re thinking of replacing your traditional meter, you may have questions about how these meters work. We’ve compiled some of the frequently asked questions to put together this complete guide. Read on to find out more and discover the advantages and disadvantages of prepayment meters.

What is a prepayment meter?

Prepayment meters can be a very useful tool for managing your energy costs. Prepayment meters require you to pay for your energy in advance. This can be very useful when it seems like energy costs are constantly on the rise.

With a prepayment meter, it’s much easier to avoid getting into debt with your gas and electricity supplier.


How does a prepayment meter work?

A prepayment meter tracks how much energy you use just like a traditional meter. However, instead of being billed for how much you use on a monthly or yearly basis, you will pay for your energy upfront and use up that ‘credit’ as you go along.

Where to top up a prepayment meter?

Pre payment electricity meter

You can top up your meter with credit at specific payment points (these might be in shops, post offices or other outlets) with your chosen amount of money.

Sometimes you will be given a card or a key which acts as your access point.

Some energy companies even allow you to top up online or via a mobile app if you have a smart meter installed.

Why use a prepayment meter?

Here are some of the advantages of using a prepayment meter:

  • You don’t receive any bills – you pay in advance.
  • You’re in control of how much and how often you top up.
  • You don’t have to worry about building up debt, as you purchase your energy before you use it making you more aware of your running energy costs.
  • You always have an idea of what your remaining balance is as it’s displayed clearly on the meter screen which helps you avoid nasty surprises.
  • Prepayment meters will have an “Emergency Credit” facility which offers a set amount of extra credit in case you run out of your pre-paid credit, giving you time to top-up your meter before you would lose supply.
  • Prepayment electricity meters have a “Friendly Credit” or ‘no-disconnect’ mode that operates at certain hours of the day and/or night. In these hours, considered to be the most inconvenient times to be without energy, you will not lose supply even if Emergency Credit has not been activated or it has run out.
  • You can use your prepayment meter to repay any outstanding money you owe your energy supplier. Your payments are spread over a time period that suits you, in agreed amounts that you can afford, and many energy providers offer this facility interest-free.


What are the disadvantages of a prepayment meter?

Standard electricity meter

  • Prepayment meters are more expensive to operate than other types of meter, which means you might not be able to access the cheapest tariffs available. 
  • Topping up at a local newsagent, petrol station, or supermarket can be inconvenient – especially when it’s cold, if you have a disability, or you are busy with work or family for example.
  • If your prepayment meter has run out of credit and your supply is off, you will need to access your meters directly to restore your supply, and they may be positioned out of easy reach.
  • Your supply will turn off if your prepayment meter runs out of credit outside of “Friendly Credit” hours, and your “Emergency Credit” has been used or has not been activated. It may not be possible to restore your supply until your meter is topped-up again and is in positive credit.
  • If your prepayment meter has run out of credit and your supply is off, you may need to repay any “Emergency Credit”, “Friendly Credit”, or any outstanding amount owed, before your supply will come back on. You may also need to account for any debt repayment plan that has been agreed. This could mean you need to top-up a bit more than you usually would so please be aware this may affect your budgeting.
  • Your energy usage will almost certainly increase during winter months meaning your weekly top-ups would also have to increase. When you pay-as-you-go this may be even more noticeable and have greater impact on your daily and weekly budgeting. It may help to spread out your payments evenly over the year to build up credit during the summer months, ready for the winter.
  • If you leave home for several days, you must remember to charge your key or card, and to credit your meter. This is because your credit is used to pay for your daily standing charge (on selected tariffs) and any debt repayments – so if you don’t charge your meter enough before going away, appliances that you may want to have on all the time (for example, freezers) may switch off.

To find out more about moving to a prepayment meter, get in touch with your energy supplier.


Who are prepayment meters suitable for?

Prepayment meters may be a good option for those who are looking to have more control over their spending on energy. It may be that you have a strict budget to keep to, so by topping up at the start of the month with the exact amount you can afford means you can try to moderate your energy usage throughout the month to fit inside that budget. You’ll never have a bill come as a nasty surprise!

This kind of meter isn’t always suitable for everyone, however, so it’s important to speak to your energy supplier directly to work out what’s best for you.

Other ways to control the rising cost of energy bills

It’s really important to stayenergysafe. Whilst tampering with your meter may be a tempting way to save money on gas or electricity bills, this is not only illegal, but also very dangerous. There are lots of horrific stories in the media, and here on the stayenergysafe website, where people have lost their homes and possessions due to fires and explosions. You may even lose your life.

A better way to stay in control of energy costs is to take advantage of all the grants, payment schemes and discounts available, especially if you are on benefits. This article on the risks of electricity meter fraud includes links to all the current schemes.

You may also wish to consider switching to a new energy provider, to take advantage of the latest and cheapest deals available. Whether you would prefer to stick with one of the larger and more familiar energy companies, or move to one of the new energy providers of which there are now lots available, the well-known price comparison websites such as USwitchMoney Supermarket, and Compare the Market can all compare tariffs, find the best deal for you, and make the process very simple.

Report anonymously

If you spot energy theft anywhere, speak up anonymously now.