Paying More for a Worse Energy Service

11 million UK pre-pay customers pay more for a far worse service from energy providers

Many of the 11 million UK pre-pay energy customers are low paid, disabled or unemployed. Most will have been forced by their provider to use this service because of unpaid debt.

At the start the energy provider will arrange a date with you to install the new meter. They will say optimistically ‘it’s just like having a pay-as-you-go mobile phone’. But later you’ll read — if you fail to be at home for the installation — they will charge you. But if they fail to turn up — hard luck! You’ll have to take another day off from your low-paid job. You’ll read that the unit rates are above direct debit payment rates, that the standing charge is above direct debit payment rates — and on top of that you’ll have to have money deducted each week to pay your debt.

Once installed — you will have a card or key — you will also have emergency credit — perhaps £2 or £10. A poor installer may have already wasted perhaps 20p of your emergency energy credit during the installation. So you will have to immediately visit your local Paypoint to put money on the key or card to allow you to use ‘normal’ energy that you have paid for. This will usually be that corner shop you haven’t visited for perhaps 10 years and you thought had closed.

Each week the energy provider will deduct ‘an agreed’ amount — the minimum they will accept is around £3. But typically they will deduct £3.50. So from £5 you will have only £1.50 of gas. Even if you don’t use your gas (pilot light — or not) — you will still have a daily deduction of around 26p standing charge and then about 20p of pilot light gas in 24 hours. Similarly for electricity you will have a daily deduction of about 19p even if you choose not to use any.

You will need to learn about the energy usage for each device in your home. For example your Poundshop bedroom alarm clock may be costing you more than £6 per year with pre-pay energy costs. Your cheap secondhand £100 ‘cold fill’ washing machine may be costing you £50 to £100 each year — in pre-pay energy costs — if you simply only use it for 1 hour each day. Your central heating pump may be costing you over £6 per year. Having your gas home heating on in a typical 3 bedroom house for just 3 hours each day — may cost you more than £80 per month — including the debt repayments of £14.

Check your usage on my Pre-pay energy calculator.

Living your life watt-by-watt is highly stressful. Forgetting to put money on your pre-pay card for electricity could mean you don’t have hot water, a cup of tea, a shower or even your gas heating on — even though you may be in credit on your gas! Imagine after a hard-day at work you can’t have a hot meal, put your lights on, wash your hair for work or be able to sit comfortably watching TV. Or imagine a disabled person having to go out late at night in the snow to their local corner shop, then return to an unlit home — get into a small cupboard — to insert a card or key into a meter so the lights come on.

This is ‘normal’ life for many of the 11 million pre-pay customers. Paying more for energy than others — but living a sub-human life. Normally paying more — whether it’s for food, a car or a home — means you live better. But the more you pay for energy — the worse the service you get.

Fuel poverty destroys lives.

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