GUEST COLUMNIST: CAB manager says pre-pay is stuck in the dark ages

PA file photo dated 05/11/2004 of an electricity bill and an electricity meter. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Issue date: Tuesday April 17, 2007. Some 2.5 million households in England will end up in fuel poverty this year - double the amount of three years ago, a report out today by the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group says. A growing difference between prices paid by pre-payment customers compared to those on direct debit is a "particularly worrying" trend, its report says. See PA story CONSUMER Fuel. Photo credit should read: Martin Keene/PA Wire
PA file photo dated 05/11/2004 of an electricity bill and an electricity meter. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Issue date: Tuesday April 17, 2007. Some 2.5 million households in England will end up in fuel poverty this year - double the amount of three years ago, a report out today by the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group says. A growing difference between prices paid by pre-payment customers compared to those on direct debit is a "particularly worrying" trend, its report says. See PA story CONSUMER Fuel. Photo credit should read: Martin Keene/PA Wire

One in six energy customers pay for gas and electricity in advance by topping up their prepayment meter via a card from their local store. 
Other industries that allow people to pay up front for services, like mobile phones, have come up with more innovative ways to add credit, but energy customers can only top-up by going to a nearby shop.

Evidence from 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. 
Now, Derbyshire Districts 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.

Energy top-ups are stuck in the dark ages. It’s bizarre that people can top up mobile phones by text and buy shopping online, but when it comes to prepayment energy, customers have to traipse to the local store. 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. Energy firms also 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. Customers who have fallen behind with their bills may find their supplier insists they have a prepayment meter installed which stops them

racking up debt.