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Prepayment energy customers face more problems

Will the prepayment meter price cap help?

A price cap for British energy customers with prepayment meters came into force yesterday – you’ll only get it when you top up. But prepayment meter customers face more problems than those with standard meters, exclusive Which? research reveals. Plus we uncover the best energy deals for prepayment meters.

More than a third of people with prepayment meters (35%) have had a problem with their energy supplier in the past year. But just a fifth (20%) of customers with a standard credit meter said they’d had a problem.

Scroll down to find out what these problems are, and what you can do to solve them.

The prepayment meter tariff cap was announced after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that prepayment meter customers did not have access to the cheapest energy deals, and were more likely to be in vulnerable circumstances.

The government expects the cap will save households around £80 per year, and that many energy companies will lower the prices of their prepayment meter tariffs to comply.

But Ovo Energy and Utilita have both announced small price rises for their prepayment customers. Utilita prepayment customers with dual fuel could see an extra £30 on bills per year. Ovo Energy customers will see a £16 increase on average. Keep reading to see the cheapest prepayment meter deals available now.

If you have a prepayment meter, or standard meter, use our independent energy switching service, Which? Switch, find the best energy deal. Or you can call us on 0800 410 1149 or 01259 220 235.

Top five prepayment meter problems

Which? research found that prepayment customers are more likely to have problems with their energy supplier than households with standard meters, as the graph below reveals. And 4% told us they’d had a problem with the prepayment meter itself.

Top problems and solutions for prepayment meter customers

  1. Inaccurate bill – contact your energy supplier and ask it to explain or correct your bill. Have up-to-date meter readings to hand.
  2. Problem with amount of price increase – if your energy firm announces an increase in the price of its standard tariff and you’re on this, you can switch energy supplier or tariff to avoid it. Follow our step-by-step guide to switching energy supplier. There are no exit fees if you are on a standard (or out of contract) tariff.
  3. Lack of meter reading – make sure you’ve submitted your latest meter readings to your energy supplier. This means your bill is based on your actual usage, not estimates. If it’s estimated, check against your own readings to see how close it is. If you need your energy supplier to send someone to read your meter, get in touch with it and ask.
  4. Inaccurate meter reading – if you believe your meter is faulty, take regular readings to help prove your case. If you think it’s running fast, try turning off all of your appliances and watching the meter; it shouldn’t still be recording significant amounts of energy. You can also ask your energy firm to test your meter. Find out more in our guide to dealing with a faulty energy meter.
  5. Problems with customer service – try online FAQ sections or online chat if you have access to the internet as this can be quicker than phoning (as our energy firms call waiting investigation revealed). If you have a complaint, check our tips for complaining to your energy supplier.

Top up to cut your bills

Price changes to meet the cap will be applied to your meter when you next top up; they won’t automatically apply on 1 April when the cap comes into force. So if your energy company is dropping its prices, top up as soon as you can (even if it’s just the minimum amount) to take advantage of the new prices.

Cheapest energy deals: prepayment meter vs direct debit

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You could save £315 over a year if you switched to the cheapest direct debit deal with a standard meter, from the priciest prepayment meter deal (Ecotricity’s Green Electricity prepayment tariff).

Below we’ve listed the cheapest energy deals on the market, and the cheapest prepayment meter deals if you want to, or have to, keep your prepayment meter.

If your energy supplier won’t change your prepayment meter for a standard one, or you can’t switch, it’s still worth checking you’re on your supplier’s cheapest deal. Ask it, or compare gas and electricity prices using Which? Switch.

 Standard meter, monthly direct debit  Prepayment meter
 Supplier and tariff  Annual price  Supplier and tariff  Annual price
 Iresa Flex4 12month Fixed Direct Debit – paperless  £834  E 1 Year Fixed Price Smart (smart meters only)  £986
 Economy Energy Direct Saver 2017 v3 – paperless  £843  Nabuh Energy Lite Rate Fix 12 Month Apr18 v1 – Paper and Paperless  £993
 Future Energy Future Variable Tracker – Paper and Paperless  £861  Spark Energy Spark Protected (June 2018) – Paper and Paperless  £1,000
 Octopus Energy Loyal Octopus 12M Fixed December 2016 v1 – Paperless  £870  Toto Energy Go with the flow – Smart pay as you go – Paperless  £1,030
 Avro Energy Simple and Bright – Paperless  £871  EDF Energy Blue+Fixed Prepay March 2018 – Paperless  £1,036

(Prices based on dual fuel, for a medium user (based on Ofgem averages of 12,500kWh gas and 3,100kWh electricity per year), with paperless billing. Data from Energylinx and correct at 28 March 2017.)

Big Six energy firms and prepayment meters

Which? research reveals that all of the Big Six energy companies are dropping their prices for prepayment meters as the cap comes into effect. Npower customers on its standard prepayment deal will see the biggest cut, of £105 on average per year, because its standard tariff was previously the priciest.

Some Co-operative Energy, Extra Energy, Spark Energy and Utility Warehouse dual fuel customers will also see price cuts of over £100.

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