Energy Costs: Curse of the Prepayment Meter!

energy costs

Have you felt this blasted British weather? Unless waves of sunshine are dancing around where you live, this has been one miserable February here in northern Europe.

Currently the rain is threatening to shatter the windows. It feels like a dystopian sci-fi film out there, with black skies above, treacherous winds and even a spot of snow. Oh Lord.

Instead of getting too dramatic about the weather I’ve been reviewing my energy costs lately for myself and my brother. We live in a small terrace house that is well insulated but does have one major problem; the curse of the prepayment gas and electricity meters (insert dramatic music).

Generally our usage seems “normal”, but there is also no doubt that I am now paying more for energy then I have ever done. In comparison I’ve had a look over the costs of living at a previous address.


In 2012/13 I lived in a large, semi detached old house in Derby with four other students. This house was as draftee as a cave and pretty bitter during the winter, which here in England lasts around five months (I wish this were a joke, but it’s the truth).

The clear advantage of being one of five was with splitting the bill. We had quarterly bills from the energy provider Npower that ranged from £170 to a massive £545, so I’ve armed myself with a calculator to work it all out.

Bill 1) Equated to £220 – Shortly after we moved in, around the summer.

Bill 2) Equated to £480 – Around the time of late autumn.

Bill 3) Equated to £545 – After the winter period.

Bill 4) Equated to £270 – As we were moving out in June.

The total stands at £1,515. Divided by the five of us we paid £303 each, over eleven months up until July. Effectively I was paying £31 a month for both gas and electric. It was also in this period of 2012 that the cost of gas increased in England.


Now living with just one other person, my hippy-ish Beatles loving brother, there is a noticeable difference in what we pay. We have a prepayment for both gas and electric.

The gross average cost for our energy is around £30 a week, £20 on electric and £10 on gas. In the more pleasant summer months we barely have to buy gas as it’ll only be used to heat water.

In the winter weeks, or decades, it works out more like £40 a week with a minimum £20 spent on gas to keep our living room fire going in the evenings.

This is a lot. We also have to keep track on how much each of us takes our prepayment USB sticks to the shop. It adds up to an average of £120 per month, with about 70% of this being spent on electricity.

Using old receipts and in my own ‘special’ way I’ve worked it our spending on energy:

Receipts for August show that we spent £90 on electric for this month and only £25 for gas.

Receipts for January show that we spent £100 on electric for this month but as much as £70 on gas.

Over the whole year we stand to have paid roughly £1,600 on energy (ouch). So at £800 each it works out that we both spend around £67 each per month for all our usage. It’s a good thing this house is well insulated!

The difference between my monthly costs in my Derby student residence and my current house is a whopping £36 per month. Of course the costs are split between two, not five, and although we have fewer showers and do less cooking than five people it still don’t like paying more than double than I did as a student.


The frustrating thing is we cannot replace these prepayment meters with credit meters in order to acquire one of the cheaper tariffs on offer. Our landlord doesn’t want to go through the time consuming bother of getting the equipment physically replaced, to which there would be a cost for him.

The previous tenant had issues paying the energy bills. That is the reason why the landlord had the prepayment metres installed so any new tenants cannot land him in trouble with nagging energy companies. This is all fair enough and I can’t blame our landlord, who really is a nice chap and I’m sure he would help us if he could.

It would also take up to six weeks in total to change over to new equipment. It’s not just a simple case of changing provider. As well as time and inconvenience there are also credit checks done to see if the tenants can be trusted to pay their bills when they arrive.  Seems a lot of bother, and since we don’t own the house it is not our decision to make anyway.

The fact is prepayment meters are a CON. They are generally provided to people who have low incomes like myself, so you can monitor your usage as you check your meter but you’ll always be paying more. It can feel as if you’re saving as the constant spending is reasonably low, a few pounds here and there, but it adds up and really put a dent in your monthly budget.

On tariffs we tend not to worry as much about our energy costs. Instead we have the advantage of blissful ignorance until the dreaded invoice from the supplier pierces its way through the letter box.

However, on prepaid energy £2 worth of electricity can quite easily go in a single day even if you haven’t used all the lights in house, heaters etc. Our gas fire has to be on when it’s most cold, and this can cost us £3 in one evening. Even when we turn it off for a period the temperature noticeably drops within seconds, so a blanket comes in handy.

We simply cannot live without heat and light. My brother and I have to try and be frugal about the energy we use but it is difficult when the cost is clearly high. It feels as though, regardless of the weather outside, we are paying more for energy than we should have to. Until I’m able to move house to something more cost effective we are stuck with this system.

Have you had the prepaid meter experience? If so, did it disrupt your spending/saving? Are you aware what you spend on energy annually? All insight would be very much welcome, thank you!

photo credit: orsorama via photopin cc

19 thoughts on “Energy Costs: Curse of the Prepayment Meter!”

  1. Hello from across the pond. Love your blog. Crazy rain – I know it’s a pain when you’re living with it, but when we were visiting there we had a similar experience. LOVED IT! It went with the haunted castle we were staying at. Guess it’s all in your perspective/experience. Put yourself in the position of someone who lives in the dessert and CHERISH the rain!

  2. Greetings my worldly friend. I agree I shouldn’t moan. I couldn’t survive in a scorching climate myself, but the lack of grass is still greener on the side. Here we have rain for about 70% of the year and whilst we have some of the most beautiful landscapes the weather gets boring quite quickly. As a result we’re paying far too much to keep warm after winter should have passed by already!
    Thanks for your comment.

  3. We had this same issue: the family who lived in our house before us didn’t pay their energy bills (or any bills; they were eventually repossessed). I’d never had a prepayment meter before and couldn’t believe how quickly it ran out and how much more we were spending! The energy company installed new “regular” meters for free after I said that if they didn’t, we would move to another provider. Also, the fact that we were the new residents seemed to create an effective “cut-off” line as far as they were concerned. The sins of the old residents were not visited upon the new residents.

    I think your landlord is just lazy! Surely it can’t be that much hassle to get new meters fitted for nothing. And surely by now you have proved that you are good tenants who pay their bills on time? Seriously, having lived with a prepayment meter I would move out of a house rather than live with one again. Maybe your landlord is shooting himself in the foot…

    1. Our landlord is laid back but I’m not sure about lazy. His experience with with the previous occupier of this address is not a good one; the guy disappeared and didn’t pay his rent in full. We do, and so I might have to prompt him to consider to make a meter change.
      Only thing is there is no guarantee that myself and my brother are sticking around, could well move elsewhere. Plus spring is round the corner and it hopefully won’t be too cold soon!

  4. It seems to me that the house is not very well insulated either. It’s hard to believe that it takes paying more to be cold in a house that is one third of ours; and we are warm.

  5. Come over to the States. I’ve had a winter like no other in New York City this year. I’m genuinely afraid to open my heating bill since I’ve had to punch the heat up this year.

  6. Legally your Landlord has no right to stop the switch from pre-payment to regular meter – nor indeed to prevent you moving supplier ……. so you can get it done! Be warned though that scrupulous saving will still be needed to pay the bill – they won’t magically half as utility bills have risen substantially in 2012……. your costs really don’t sound that excessive I am sad to say with the average bill in the UK in excess of £1200 per annum.
    Also – if you are not on top of ALL your budgeting moving to a regular account may leave you struggling so make sure your budget is rigorous and that you stick to it. Debt is VERY expensive in so many ways.

    1. Yes, either way the cost would be high whichever type of meter we had. I’ve experienced energy bills of £400+ and they really do catch you off guard. The main disadvantage of pre-payment is that you can run out of energy before you know it instead of having a constant supply.
      I’m going to try and get my landlord to visit us for a face to face chat. He’s not refusing to change the meters, just not so eager.

  7. Ok, I do not understand any of this as we typically pay once a month for utilities. Also, if a previous tenant had an issue-it’s their issue because the service is set up under the new tenant’s name/ss# I like posts like this one because I learn something new!!

    1. Before I moved into my current house I thought that these kind of energy top-up meters were a thing of the past. It’s the same method as paying for mobile phone top-ups over the counter in a shop. It’s archaic in a sense, and expensive.

    1. Does this mean that you get to choose fixed amounts to pay for energy if it’s inbuilt into the rent bill? That is surely a good thing if this is the case.
      I know a few people who complain about the use/essential need for air con in hot, hot climates. The novelty of searing heat wears off I’m sure.

    1. And where abouts do you live? In England things a pretty costly, but we also have the advantage of a mostly mild climate. It’s just that winter stretches well beyond January now, and it seems ridiculous that we should have to keep using gas to keep warm as late as March.

  8. I used one of those prepaid electricity meters when I rented a place in London. It was crazy how often I had to go to the shop to buy a new card. I never worked out the figures like you did but it seemed to cost a fortune

  9. Literally moved in to a property yesterday – a student one. It has just been finished. And when I say JUST I mean I arrived to my house with about 10 builders in it and debris everywhere. The guy had guaranteed it would be finished on the day but I arrived to no working toilets, no internet and A PREPAID METER. The prepaid meter was already in the property and the landlord is working on getting it removed. However as my bills are supposed to be included in the rent I pay I am NOT topping up a card as I have no obligation to. Even worse is one of the builders broke the last meter so they installed a new one today (went my first day in the property without any hot water at all. That cold shower was fun indeed) and the previous meter had been credited £25 by the letting agency (as they are paying utilities) but that £25 has been lost since the meter has been replaced. So I have only £10 emergency gas until the letting agency gets credited back their £25 that went with the old broken meter. I have NO idea how far £10 will get me with gas and as currently the only person moved in I am avoiding using any hot water at all as I want to be able to have hot showers (sometimes my showers take quite a long time) but its safe to say when this prepaid meter is gone I will be a happy bunny indeed. Though I can see their benefits, they are normally installed for free people with energy debts but anyone else who then moves into the property after the original owner then has to pay to get them removed? Doesnt seem fair. Especially as I know students who could not get them removed due to ‘bad credit history’ when in reality they had no credit history at all since they did not own a credit card.

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