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How to change from a prepayment meter to a credit meter

Paid off an old energy debt, moved to a new home, or want to change the way you pay for your energy? Find out how to switch from a prepayment meter to a standard credit meter here.

 Prepayment gas meter outside on wall

A credit meter records your energy consumption, which is sent to your supplier. You’re then sent a bill for the energy you’ve used since your last bill. If you’re changing from prepayment meter to direct debit, this means you pay a lump sum towards your energy bill each month.

In contrast, a prepayment meter requires you to pay for your energy in advance. You must add credit to your account before you can use any energy. If you have a non-smart meter, you might use a top-up card or key to pay for your energy.

If you have a smart meter, you can pay online, or by app, text or phone.

Most suppliers provide emergency credit of around £10 in case you’re unable to top up for any reason. Your supplier deducts this from the amount of credit you add when you next top up.

Yes, you can change a prepayment meter to a credit meter, but it's subject to these conditions:

  • You’re not in energy debt: In other words, you don’t owe your current or a former supplier any outstanding debt on your energy bills.
  • You pass a credit check or pay a security deposit: Before you switch, your energy supplier might check your credit score. They do this so they can be sure you're going to pay your bills going forward.

Speak to your supplier or check its website. If you don’t know who that is, read our guide on how to find out how to find out who supplies your gas and electricity.

You'll then have to meet its conditions for switching, whether that's paying off existing debt, paying a deposit or passing a credit check.

The first thing you need to do is speak to the home’s existing energy supplier to obtain a new top-up key or card. Do not use the previous occupier’s card, even if they left it behind. You may end up paying some of their outstanding debt just to get gas and/or electricity.

Once you’ve got your new top-up card registered and in use, you can then examine your options. These include:

  • Shopping around for a better prepayment tariff
  • Speaking to the supplier about switching to a credit meter if you own your home
  • Contacting your landlord to discuss whether they’re happy for you to switch from a prepayment to standard credit meter

Even if your landlord approves the switch, you may be obliged to change the meter back to a prepayment version when your tenancy ends. This is easier with a smart meter.

This depends on several factors. First, if you’re already using a smart meter then you won’t need a new meter fitted. This is because smart meters can work as either prepayment or standard credit meters. Your supplier should be able to flick this virtual ‘switch’ remotely and without charge.

If you have a non-smart prepay meter, then your supplier might offer to fit a smart meter in its place. This should again cost you nothing.

If you want to replace your prepayment meter with a non-smart credit meter, speak to your supplier. It might ask you to pay for this. Your supplier might also charge you if you switch to a new supplier within 12 months of the meter being fitted. That's even if it fits the meter for free.

If you already have a smart meter, it should take a few days to switch to a credit meter. Your supplier should be able to make the change remotely.

It might take a few weeks or more if you need a new smart meter (or non-smart credit meter) because they're fitted by an engineer. The actual fitting process shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours.

Suppliers may run a credit check because they want to check the risk that you might struggle to keep up with your energy usage. This would result in you falling into debt. The credit check is designed to reassure them that you don’t have a history of unpaid energy debts against your name.

Will the credit check affect my credit rating? 

It depends on whether the supplier performs a soft or hard credit check. When moving from a prepayment meter, most will perform a hard check, which can adversely affect your credit score. If you’d rather not go through this, speak to your supplier. They may decide not to do the check if you can pay a security deposit.

What can I do if I fail the credit check?

You may still be able to switch to a credit meter, but you will have to pay a security deposit. This varies according to the supplier. Most charge the equivalent of 3 months’ energy usage. The figure is based on a typical energy bill for a household like yours. In today’s market, that could be £300 or even more. Note, the deposit is not used to pay for your ongoing energy usage. You will, however, get it back in full when your contract ends, minus any outstanding amount you owe.

How can I improve my credit score?

You can boost your credit score several ways. A reliable method is to take out a credit builder credit card. This starts off with a low monthly limit. Restrict yourself to small, affordable purchases and pay off the full amount each month to build your score. Sadly, you can’t improve your credit score simply by paying your energy bills on time.

If your energy supplier moved you on to a prepayment meter, check it didn’t break any rules in doing so (see Ofgem’s consumer guidance for details). You can also ask to switch if it’s not safe or practical for you to have a prepayment meter. Reasons include:

  • If you can’t physically access your meter to top it up
  • If you’re disabled or have a health condition
  • If you live with young childrenIf you’re 75 or over
  • If you can’t afford to top up

If you don’t meet these criteria and you want to switch, you need to find a way to satisfy your supplier’s conditions. Typically, this means working on paying off your energy debt and improving your credit score.

The simplest and quickest way to compare energy suppliers and tariffs is with our energy comparison tool. Simply enter your postcode, street address and details of your current deal to find out if there’s a better deal available to you. 

If you’re about to switch to a prepayment meter, you need to consider the following:

  • Going forward you’re paying for your energy in advance on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • You don't need a credit check to switch to a prepayment meter.
  • Any outstanding money you owe on your energy bill can be transferred to your prepayment meter. You pay this off in small chunks via your tariff so you don’t go without energy.
  • If you have a non-smart prepayment meter, you need a top-up key or card from your supplier. You need to top this up in person at your local shop or Post Office that has a Payzone or PayPoint.
  • If you have a smart meter, you can top up your credit online, via an app, text or over the phone.
  • Smart meters also make it easier to monitor your energy usage and see how much credit you have left.
  • You can still switch tariffs and suppliers, but you have a more limited choice. You can only switch supplier if you owe your current provider less than £500 per fuel. The debt's transferred with you to your new energy supplier.

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