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Prepayment meters

With a prepayment meter, you can ‘pay as you go’ for your gas and electricity.

prepayment meter

Sometimes in old films the lights go out and you hear people saying ‘Put another shilling in the meter!’ Well, shillings are now just a memory, and so are those old money-in-the-slot meters.

Nowadays, even ‘traditional’ or ‘standard’ prepaid energy meters (sometimes known as ‘dumb’ meters) are much more sophisticated than they used to be, because you top them up with special keys and cards rather than 10p pieces. And they’re fast being replaced by ‘smart’ meters, which you can top up online and which can ‘talk’ to each other and to your energy supplier.

However, the basic idea is still the same: you put money in the meter and you get energy. If you stop putting in money, the gas or electricity can be disconnected.

Energy customers with a prepayment meter are on a Pay As You Go (PAYG) tariff, where they pay in advance for their energy. At OVO, they can do this in various ways, depending on the plan they’re on, and whether they have a standard or smart meter. Other energy companies will offer different prepayment tariffs and top-up methods, but these are ours:

prepayment cards

  • Standard meter: Customers have a card for their gas meter and a key for their electricity meter. They take these to specific outlets (such as PayPoints, Payzones or Post Offices) and pay to top them up with credit. They then go home and insert the key and card in their meters, which transfers the credit to the meters and allows the energy to keep flowing in.
  • Smart meter with a  Smart PAYG Standard plan: Customers get a payment card for each meter. They take these cards to a PayPoint and pay to top them up. However, they don’t then need to go home and put the cards in the meters. As soon as the credit is in one of the cards, it is transferred remotely to the relevant meter.
  • Smart meter with an OVO Smart PAYG+ plan: Customers can still top up a card at a PayPoint, but they can also top up online, by text, by phone, or in our OVO Energy app. They don’t top up their meters separately; the money is used in whichever meter it’s needed.

If you’re an OVO customer and you’re topping up at a PayPoint shop, you can pay in an amount from £5 up to £49, and if you’re topping up through the app, online, by text, by phone or by auto top-up, it’s £5 up to £99.

Any further questions around smart meters? From safety & security to installation and technology, find all the answers on our smart meters FAQs page.

Why some people prefer prepayment gas and electric meters

prepayment gas and electricity meters

There are various groups of people who might find it more useful to choose a prepayment plan and meter:

  1. Energy customers who like to monitor and control their energy use. Some people like to keep a very close eye on exactly what they’re spending on their energy, and prepayment meters enable them to do this. If they have a smart prepayment meter, they can see exactly when they use most energy and even work out which appliances are costing the most in energy bills.
  2. People who have struggled to keep up with their energy bills in the past. One of the good things about prepaid energy meters is that customers shouldn’t be able to get into debt with their energy bills. However, it can be more expensive than paying monthly bills by Direct Debit or Standing Order.
  3. Someone without a bank account. Most energy companies offer discounts for payment by Direct Debit, because they want to encourage customers to pay that way. However, if you don’t have a bank account you can’t set up a Direct Debit, so PAYG is the only option.
  4. Anyone letting a flat or house to tenants. Landlords quite often like to install prepayment meters to make sure their tenants can’t disappear and leave unpaid bills behind. The landlord can be the account holder without worrying about having to take responsibility for their tenants’ energy arrears.

No more blackouts

In the old ‘put a shilling in the meter’ days, when the meter ran out of money it would simply cut off the power. If it was the electricity meter, the lights would go out and the TV screen would go blank. If it was the gas meter, the boiler would go out and so would the gas hob.

Life is a bit easier now. To start with, if you’ve got a smart meter it can warn you that you’re running out of credit – with a flashing light or even a text alert. It can also activate your ‘emergency credit’. This is extra cash (usually around £5) which can keep the energy flowing until you’re able to top up – or for 24 hours.

When you next top up, you’ll need to add enough credit to cover what you spent while in emergency credit. If you don’t top up within the 24hr window, or before your emergency credit runs out, your supply may disconnect.

However, if you really do run out of credit, the meter will only shut down your energy at times when it’s safe – i.e. during the hours when you should be able to get to a shop and top up. For example, for our OVO PAYG customers, their meters won’t cut out overnight (between 8pm and 8am, Monday - Friday), at weekends or on bank holidays.

Can I apply to switch to a prepayment meter and Pay As You Go?

Yes, almost certainly.

Just get in touch with your energy company – or your new provider if you’re switching – and let them know you want a prepaid energy meter. In fact, before you switch, check out all the ‘best buy’ tables and comparison sites to compare prepaid energy prices and make sure you’re going to get the cheapest prepayment electricity and gas.

If you’ve got a smart meter, it may simply be a case of switching it from monthly payment mode to PAYG mode.

If you have a standard meter, your existing or new supplier may have to take it out and replace it with a new prepayment model. This could be another standard meter, or they might decide to take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade you to a smart meter. Either way, keep a check on what they’re intending to charge you, to make sure you get the best prepayment meter rates.

If you no longer want a prepayment meter

If you’ve moved into a new home and inherited the previous owner’s prepayment meter, but you’d rather pay by monthly direct debit and not worry about topping up, you should contact your energy supplier. In fact, if you’ve just moved in, you may not be happy with the energy supplier you’ve inherited either. If so, it’s best to speak to your preferred new supplier to make sure they can provide a new meter, and whether they’ll make any charges for this service.

If it’s a smart meter, your supplier may be able to switch the mode, but if it’s a standard meter it will probably need to be exchanged, and they may have to charge you a fee to cover the engineer’s work.

Find out more about how to get a smart meter and their key benefits. 

So how does OVO's Pay as you Go+ work? These films will tell you all you need

Getting started on OVO Energy Smart PAYG+



Topping up with OVO Energy Smart PAYG+



Schedule top ups with OVO Energy PAYG+



Keeping track of your account activity with OVO Energy



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