Can your energy supplier force you onto a prepayment meter?

Can your energy supplier force you onto a prepayment meter?

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

If you’re struggling with your energy bills, your supplier might suggest switching to a prepayment meter. 

But the choice to do this may not always be yours. In some situations, your supplier could carry out an involuntary prepayment meter installation. This is where they switch your meter without your permission. 

We explain when and how this might happen and who’s exempt. We’ll also share what to do if you need help with your bills. 

Involuntary prepayment meter installations can only happen if you owe your supplier money 

Your energy supplier can only consider an involuntary prepayment meter installation if all of these criteria apply: 

  • You owe more than £200 for electricity and/or more than £200 for gas. 
  • It’s been more than three months since the bill was issued. 
  • There are no disagreements over the bill amount. If you do disagree, then you must tell your supplier why. For example, maybe the bill is for a previous resident at your address. 

You’ll only ever be forced onto a prepayment meter as a last resort 

Your energy supplier can only carry out an involuntary prepayment meter installation as a last resort to get back money you owe them. Ofgem, the energy regulator, has laid out strict rules that energy suppliers must follow. These apply before, during, and after a forced switch.  

Before you’re moved onto a prepayment meter, your energy supplier must:


  • Attempt to contact you at least 10 times to talk to you and offer you other ways to repay your debt. 
  • Visit you at home. This is to make sure it’s practical and safe for you to be moved to a prepayment meter. 

If your energy supplier needs to install a traditional prepayment meter at your home, they will need a warrant to do this. This can cost up to £150. Your supplier may add this to what you owe them. 

If you have a smart meter, then your energy supplier can switch this into prepayment mode remotely. There’s no need for a warrant, and no extra payment to make. 

During the installation, your supplier must: 

  • Give you a £30 credit per meter. This is to help if you don’t have the money to top up your meters immediately.  
  • Install a smart prepayment meter. You can’t opt to keep a traditional meter unless you need one, for example, because there’s poor mobile signal in your area and a smart meter won’t work. 

After the installation, your supplier must: 

  • Re-assess your case once you’ve repaid what you owe.  
  • Move you back to a standard credit meter if this is suitable once your debt is repaid. 

You won’t be moved to a prepayment meter if it isn’t safe or practical 

Energy suppliers must assess your circumstances and make sure it’s safe and practical for them to move you to a prepayment meter. If it isn’t, then you won’t be forced to switch. Here are some of the reasons you could be exempt from an involuntary prepayment meter installation: 

  • You live with young children. 
  • Someone in your household has a medical need for a continuous energy supply. For example, being reliant on powered medical equipment. 
  • You and anyone else you live with are over 75 and have no support at home. 
  • You or someone you live with has a serious health condition or is medically dependent on having a warm home. 
  • Nobody in the household is physically or mentally able to top up a prepayment meter, for example, due to access issues. 
  • You or someone you live with is pregnant. 
  • You’ve had a recent bereavement. 

There may be ways to get around some of these issues that mean your energy supplier can still make you have a prepayment meter. For example, your supplier can move your meter if you can’t access it.  

If your supplier thinks it’s safe for you to have a prepayment meter, but you disagree, then you will need to complain. How you do this depends on your supplier’s complaints process. 

Only certain energy suppliers can carry out involuntary installations 

Energy suppliers can only carry out involuntary installations if they meet certain conditions and follow a Code of Practice set out by Ofgem. At the time of writing, only three energy suppliers in the UK can install a prepayment meter without a household’s permission. These are: 

  • EDF 
  • Octopus 
  • Scottish Power 

This means that if you’re with a supplier not listed here, they can’t force you to have a prepayment meter.  

If you’re struggling with your energy bills, speak to your supplier 

If you’re working with your energy supplier to repay what you owe, they’re less likely to force you onto a prepayment meter. So, if you’ve fallen behind on your bills, speak to them.  

Energy suppliers provide a range of options to help you repay any money you owe and get back on top of your bills. The options available may include: 

  • Moving onto a different or cheaper tariff 
  • Repayment plans 
  • Giving you more time to pay or to seek debt advice 
  • Advice on funds, grants, and schemes you may qualify for 

If you’re struggling financially, then you can get free, impartial guidance from: 



Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

Author Profile Image: Helen Fox

Helen Fox

Personal Finance Editor

Helen is a personal finance editor who’s spent 11 years (and counting!) in the finance industry. She creates content on everything money with the goal of getting people thinking – and talking – about their finances in ways they may not have done before.

Can your energy supplier force you onto a prepayment meter? Can your energy supplier force you onto a prepayment meter?