Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

Prepay energy meters: Your stories

Energy companies have been accused by watchdog Consumer Focus of making huge profits from some of their poorest customers.

Some BBC News website readers have no option but to use prepayment meters to pay their bills, despite the higher costs.

Roger Burt, Wick, Caithness, Highland

Roger Burt

Roger Burt lives in a one-bedroom bachelor pad in Wick in Caithness.

He said: "I live in a small, privately rented flat and because the lease is short-term, the landlord has quite understandably installed these meters.

"I only expect to be here temporarily until I can find my own place, but am still forced to pay high charges in order to have electricity - something that should be classified as a basic need.

"I am not in debt but nevertheless I struggle to pay the costs, and since I have rheumatoid arthritis, I need to have the heating on more than I would like.

"I used to live in Edinburgh and would pay my bills online. The difference was astonishing. Before, I paid around 15 a week. Now I pay 25. When you add that up, that is a lot of money.

"Despite having a chronic illness, I don't qualify for winter fuel payments either because I'm not a pensioner.

"I don't heat my bedroom up and I don't use hot water in my taps. If I do the washing up, I boil the amount I need in a small kettle. I don't have any other option. I rely on a small heater to keep me warm even though it's cold outside with howling gales.

"The government and the energy companies need to sort the situation out. I'm not saying I'm in favour of privatising everything but I do believe in fairness.

"I can't afford to be extravagant."

Beverley Griffiths, Plymouth, Devon

Beverley Griffiths
Beverley Griffiths worries about how she will cope

Beverley Griffiths has no idea how she will pay the mounting debts which she believes are caused by her dependency on the prepayment meter in her home.

The 59-year-old grandmother said: "I have an ongoing query about my account with my energy supplier and it feels like it's never going to be resolved.

"The supplier keeps telling me I'm in arrears and because of that, I'm being forced to change my direct debit payments and have a meter fitted instead to try to clear my bill.

"The energy company has told me that, as a matter of goodwill, I'll only have to pay half of the 30 they initially quoted me but the cost of having the meter put in, plus this amount on top is too much for me to afford.

"I'm on benefits and I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't understand how my bills got so high. I live in a new house, with double-glazing and it's well insulated.

"I need to have electricity as I'm disabled, but I know the prepayment meter will cost a lot more upfront than the direct debits currently do.

"My eight-year-old grandson Samuel often gets croup and so it's something that's essential to have in the house.

"I can't get through to any of the so-called dedicated helpline numbers and it feels like I have no-one to turn to."

Ian Walters, Ipswich, Suffolk

Ian and Irene Walters
Ian and his wife Irene have no option but to use a prepayment meter

Ian Walters gave up his job 10 years ago to be a full-time carer for his wife Irene, who is disabled.

He said: "At the time a prepayment meter seemed like a better option, but now, reading about it in the news, it seems we'd save a lot more money by paying by direct debit.

"I've asked our supplier to let us pay for our gas and electricity together, but they say it will cost 50 for us to take out the meter and it's something Irene and I can't afford.

"We pay around 20 to 30 a week at the moment for that bill and it will take us a long time to save that much money.

"I can't work so we're dependent on income support.

"We're trying to save money by changing to what should be a cheaper option and we thought the energy companies would help and make it better but they don't.

"The situation should be fairer than it presently is. We're penalised by high prices but our options are limited."

Charlotte Every, Hove, Brighton

Charlotte Every moved to her two-bedroom converted flat in Hove last year with her two-year-old son, Billy.

She said: "My flat has a prepayment meter and it's far too expensive. I'm trying to get my energy suppliers changed but I'm finding it difficult.

"I'm paying 25 a week for my electricity and I'm sure that a lot of this is going towards debts left on my payment key by the previous tenant.

"People don't realise that that can happen and the energy companies just want their money.

I've resorted to using candles and recharging my phone at work to cut back on costs. This is crippling me
Charlotte Every

"I don't understand why I'm being penalised, especially when you compare how much I'm paying to what people on direct debits are paying.

"I've made huge cutbacks - I only turn my washing machine on at night even though it disturbs me and my son because it's cheaper then.

"I've resorted to using candles and recharging my phone at work to cut back on costs. This is crippling me.

"But that's not the worst of it; when I try to call my energy supply, I have to dial a premium rate number and it takes me ages to get through.

"I don't have a landline so it can lead to a 10 charge on my mobile for what is an essential call.

"I used to pay 7 a week but if I want to go back to paying by direct debit, the energy company claims they will charge me 150 to change the way I pay.

"I feel trapped and I'm seething about it."

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Energy firms 'profit from poor'
15 Nov 08 |  Business

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