One in six energy customers pay for gas and electricity in advance by topping up their prepayment meter via a card from their local store. Other industries that allow people to pay up front for services, like mobile phones, have come up with more innovative ways to add credit, but energy customers still have to top-up by going to a nearby shop.
Bolton CAB is taking part in the national Citizens Advice campaign to get a better deal for prepayment customers. The ‘Fair play for prepay’ campaign is asking energy companies to offer a greater choice of tariffs and more innovative ways to top up.
Evidence from Ofgem has found that prepayment meter customers aren’t just inconvenienced by the system – they are also paying more. The cost of their gas and electricity tends to be around £80 more each year than other payment methods.
Richard Wilkinson, Chief Officer of Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau said:
“Energy top-ups are stuck in the dark ages. It’s bizarre that people can top up mobile phones by text and buy shopping online, but when it comes to prepayment energy, customers have to traipse to the local store and now it is coming winter they have to walk in the cold, dark and often wet weather.
“If you are housebound or have children at home, getting out to top-up your gas and electricity can be really difficult. If it runs out unexpectedly then you are faced with no heating or lighting until you can get to the shops. In this day and age life could be made much easier for these customers by topping up over the phone or online.
“Energy firms also need to look at boosting choice for prepayment customers. Having one or two options to choose from is not enough to make this part of the market competitive and drive down prices.”
Some customers choose to pay for their gas and electricity up front as they feel it gives them greater control over their money, but others are forced to pay in this way. Customers who have fallen behind with their energy bills may find their supplier insists they have a prepayment meter installed which stops them racking up debt.