PREPAYING energy bills should be something simple and easy. However, for many, the service feels like something that is stuck in the dark ages, writes Arun and Chichester CAB chief executive Carol Groves.
One in six energy customers pay for gas and electricity in advance by topping up their prepayment meter from their local store.
And while other industries that allow people to pay up front for services, like mobile phones, have come up with more innovative ways to add credit, energy customers still have to top-up by traipsing over to their local shop.
It’s a bizarre situation and frankly an outdated way of doing things.
If you are housebound or have children at home, getting out to top-up your gas and electricity can be really difficult.
If it runs out unexpectedly then you are faced with no heating or lighting until you can get to the shops.
In this day and age, life could be made much easier for these customers by topping up over the phone or online.
That’s why the Arun & Chichester CAB is taking part in the national Citizens Advice campaign to get a better deal for prepayment customers.
The ‘fair play for prepay’ campaign is asking energy companies to offer a greater choice of tariffs and more innovative ways to top up.
Evidence from energy regulator Ofgem has found that prepayment meter customers aren’t just inconvenienced by the system – they are also paying more. The cost of their gas and electricity tends to be around £80 more each year than other payment methods.
Some customers choose to pay for their gas and electricity up front as they feel it gives them greater control over their money, but others are forced to pay in this way.
Customers who have fallen behind with their energy bills may find their supplier insists they have a prepayment meter installed, which stops them racking up debt.
In short, energy firms still need to look at boosting choice for prepayment customers. Having one or two options to choose from is not enough to make this part of the market competitive and drive down prices.
Energy customers can get advice by calling our helpline on 03454 04 05 06, going online at www.adviceguide.org.uk or visiting our advice centre in Anchor Springs, Littlehampton.
Those wishing to sign up to the campaign and show their support can do so by visiting the CAB website at www.arunchichestercab.org.uk, clicking the campaign dropdown bar, and selecting: ‘fair play for prepay’.