The cold, winter months are bedding in.
Many will struggle to keep their homes warm over the next few months – and people using prepayment meters for their energy may find they are struggling more than others.
Despite paying on average £80 a year more than direct debit customers, energy prepayment meter users get a second class service, including limited top up options, little or no choice of tariffs, faulty keys or meters and poor customer service.
Citizens Advice evidence also reveals that 16 per cent of prepayment meter users are cut off over the winter: either because they cannot afford to buy more energy, or because they are unable to top-up their meter.
Citizens Advice has launched a campaign to get a fairer deal for people with prepayment meters: Fair Play for Prepay. As the statutory consumer watchdog for energy customers, Citizens Advice is demanding the energy companies offer a better price, more control and easier use.
If you’ve forgotten to top up your meter, you can go to your nearest charging point to top up your key or card.
Most suppliers provide some emergency credit, which means you can carry on using energy for a short time after your top-up runs out.
If you dip into this emergency credit, you will need to pay for it in your next top-up.
For example, if you use £2 of emergency credit then top up your card with £5, the meter will take the first £2 to repay the emergency credit.
This will leave you only £3 on your meter.
If you can’t afford to top up your prepayment meter, contact your gas or electricity supplier immediately to make them aware of the situation.
If you owe a debt, they may be able to reduce the repayment level or offer you a lower priced tariff.
Ask whether they offer any schemes to help customers facing financial hardship, as you may be eligible for these.
Talk to a CAB adviser if you’re worried: our advice is free, confidential, independent and impartial.
For more information on local CAB services, please visit www.centralandsouthsussexcab.org.uk.
We have eight Advice Centres in West Sussex, including in Haywards Heath, East Grinstead and Burgess Hill.
To speak to a local adviser by phone, please call Adviceline on 0344 477 1171.
Follow CAB on Twitter @WSussexCAB
Column contributed by Roger Stamp of CAB Mid Sussex.