Affordable Energy Access

Getting a better deal for vulnerable customers on high energy tariffs

2 March 2015

Red Nose Day is next week  a good time to celebrate the work Comic Relief has funded to help us make energy more affordable and accessible for those in financial hardship. The Affordable Energy project is supporting people with prepayment meters, people who “often pay more for electricity but have the lowest incomes and standards of housing” says Kate Thomas who’s managing the project.

Prepayment customers – those who pay for their gas and electricity upfront by topping-up their meter  do not get the best deal. They pay their supplier’s standard rate tariff for gas or electricity which is more than if you are billed quarterly or pay by direct debit. Moreover, there are fewer prepayment tariffs available and prepayment customers cannot take advantage of discounts for paperless billing. Unlike monthly direct debit, prepayment meters don’t allow you to spread payments evenly across the year, so a prepayment customer will find themselves paying much more in the winter than in summer.

Our advisors have been attending community events and holding workshops that support people switch from prepayment meters to cheaper tariffs and payment options, to manage debt, and apply for financial support. In addition, the team has been offering practical advice by phone or face-to-face during home visits.

One man recently visited as part of the scheme is Mark. He was referred to us by a nurse who noted that he’s on 24 hour oxygen and pays for his electricity and gas by a prepayment meter; his mobility is limited by his health condition and since credit must be bought in person from a shop or other outlet, topping up his account was proving difficult. After a home visit, CSE advisor Lisa Evans contacted his energy supplier to ask for them to install credit meters. She said “they were happy to do this because of his condition and arranged a date for the following week”.  A fortnight later, she was back at Mark’s home, helping to set up direct debit payments for his new meter. As an added benefit, his preferred tariff will result in a significant saving on energy payments – roughly £100 per year!

Mark said: "Changing from gas and electric prepayment meters to quarterly billing has improved my life 100%. Before, I had to top up the meters twice a week, and when it’s cold (like it has been recently) it was a real struggle".

For some, prepayment meters are a good payment option. They can help with budgeting, as the payments are smaller and more frequent and there are no large or unexpected bills to worry about; they prevent customers from getting into debt and can be set up to automatically deduct affordable repayments for existing debt. Where a prepayment meter is appropriate, advisors can offer support with maximising income or saving energy in the home to lower payments.

If you have a prepayment meter, take a look at our advice leaflet. This includes information on switching to a credit meter and understanding your meter.

Live in Bristol, Bath or Weston-super-Mare? Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details of advice events near, or get in touch with our Home Energy Team call 0800 082 2234, email us your question at or send us a tweet

And don't forget to support Red Nose Day on Friday 13 March. 

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