Tackling your debts

Pre-payment meters - don't be left in the dark.

Posted 11 November 2013

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Up to one million people are cut off from gas and electricity every week because they run out of credit on their pre-payment meters


Click! You are in the middle of watching X Factor and the TV goes off.

So do the lights, the cooker and, if you rely on electricity for all your energy needs, the heating too.

Anyone who has a pre-payment meter will recognise this situation straight away - you have run out of credit.

The same can happen with gas. According to research by Debt Advisory Centre, up to one million people are being left in the cold and dark every week in the UK when their gas or electricity runs out.

Don’t panic!

Even if your meter runs out in the middle of the night or Christmas Day, when you have no hope of topping up your key or smart card or of buying more tokens, you still can’t be cut off completely.

Energy companies are obliged to offer you 'emergency credit'. This means that if the credit you have paid for runs out, you can continue using gas or electricity for a little while longer until the shops open and you can buy more.

The amount of emergency credit you can access will vary according to your provider and the tariff you’re on. NPower’s standard emergency credit, for example, is £7, or £12 for people on Economy 7 meters.

Because you are borrowing the money, you’ll have to pay this back the next time you top up your meter.

Be prepared

It’s a good idea to buy credit before you need it, and especially make sure you have enough to take you through bank holidays when the shops are closed.

If you are going away and are running a fridge or freezer off your meter, make sure there’s enough credit to cover the amount of electricity you use until get back. Likewise if it’s very cold and you need heating to come on for a short time to protect your water pipes.

Make sure you know where the nearest outlet is and when it opens, just in case you do run out.


Struggling to feed the meter?

It may seem very unfair considering they’ve got your money upfront, but energy companies usually charge you more for gas and electricity supplied through a meter. This can make it particularly hard to feed the meter, especially during the cold winter months when you are likely to turn the heating on for longer.

You might be able to cut costs by switching to a cheaper tariff - try checking on one of the energy-switching sites.

Debt problems?

However, if your debt problems extend further than your energy bills, it may be time to get some expert advice. Debt Advisory Centre can help people who are struggling with debt to get back in control of their finances.

Fill in the form on this page and a member of our team will call you to talk about your problems and find out what kind of debt solution might be right for you.

by Emily Bancroft

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.