Can I change my prepayment energy meter?

Thursday 18th July, 2013 By Martin Fagan
Can I change my prepayment energy meter?

A prepayment meter is the most expensive way to pay for your energy. So what happens if move into a property with one already installed?

Very few people spare a thought for the type of energy meters in their home, simply because the units are usually tucked away out of sight in a cupboard or under the stairs.

But if your property has a prepayment meter installed, then you're probably not only aware of where it lurks in the house, but also well acquainted with the seemingly never ending process of feeding it money.

Prepayment meters are marketed towards those on low incomes. However, millions of people have had them installed only to find that they're more of a burden than a benefit.

According to charity National Energy Action (NEA), there are 5.8 million prepayment meters in use in Great Britain and tariff rates are often the most expensive on the market. But NEA suggests prepayment meter customers are generally on lower than average incomes, with 21% of gas consumers on an annual income of less than £10,000.

But if your house has a prepayment meter and you'd rather be on a conventional meter in order to take advantage of a more competitive energy tariff, what should you do?

Switching prepayment meters

Having the prepay meter replaced by a credit meter will depend on a number of factors.

The first is the energy supplier. The prepay meter may have been installed by the energy company because the previous tenant may have had what is euphemistically called a "delinquent payment record".  

However, if it's your name on the bills, you're the one taking out the contract with the energy company.

But if you're signing up with the existing supplier, you may be asked to remain on the prepay meter for six months before switching to a credit meter. If the current supplier won't change the meter, you could make this a condition of signing up with a new supplier.

But it does all depend on the supplier. Some will agree to switch the meter immediately but others will insist on a qualifying period where, even though you've changed supplier, you'll have to endure the prepayment meter for a few more months.

If you've been the person named on the energy bill at your previous address and have paid the bills religiously as they come due, this is a boon as it will prove to the existing supplier you can be trusted with a credit meter.

You can use your history of good payment with your previous supplier as either leverage with a new supplier or else as a way of signing up with your old supplier at your new address.

Your old supplier will be aware of your payment history and will be more amenable to changing the meter in your new flat. If your credit rating is good, then a supplier will generally swap the meters free of charge.

Credit where credit's due

The second factor is your personal credit rating.

When you apply for a loan, mortgage, overdraft, credit card, contract mobile phone and even to an energy supplier, the company will check your credit rating to estimate your ability to fulfil financial commitments based on your previous dealings and payment record.

Before it agrees to supply you with energy, your potential supplier will run a credit check on you. What type of meter you're offered will depend on whether your credit score is good or bad. If it's very bad, a supplier may even refuse to deal with you altogether.

A credit meter means just that: your energy supplier is allowing you to use its energy before you've paid for it, so is supplying the electricity/gas in advance on the understanding you'll pay the bill in the future. Just as you need a good credit score to take out a credit card or a mortgage, you also need a good credit score to get a credit meter.

People with bad credit ratings and uneven payment records are often forced by the energy company onto a prepayment meter. This is hugely convenient for the energy company, as it only supplies the energy after you've paid for it and charges you a premium for the privilege of having to buy your energy in advance.

The moral of the story

Just as people with the best credit ratings get the cheapest mortgages, the biggest overdrafts and most competitive credit cards, they also get the best deals with energy suppliers.

This means the supplier will be kindly disposed to removing a prepayment meter for a customer that has a history of paying their bills.

If your credit rating leaves something to be desired, the energy supplier could insist you stick with the prepayment meter until you prove to it you can be trusted with a credit meter.

But if you have a good credit rating and history as a customer of an energy supplier, this should all strengthen your case to have a prepayment meter removed.