Britain's top-up energy nightmares

OVO Energy highlights the convenience benefits of smart PAYG

Brits are spending 10 hours and 50 minutes on average each year on trips to top up their prepayment meters (PPMs), according to research commissioned by OVO Energy. This equates to a whole month over a lifetime, which OVO Energy says customers could instead spend on leisure pursuits or income-generating activities. The company is one the UK’s fastest-growing independent suppliers, with over half a million domestic customers.

The survey conducted for OVO Energy found that 40% of PAYG energy users have been left at home in darkness at least once as the shop has been shut and they’ve been left unable to top up the power. A similar proportion have had a home-cooked meal ruined or have woken up to find their freezer defrosted, no hot water, and no power. Over a third (36%) have missed an important sporting moment or the ending of a film, after the meter unexpectedly ran out mid-way through. 17% have experienced the lights going out when they’ve been in the shower or bath.

Britain's top-up energy nightmares
Britain’s top energy nightmares – Source: OVO Energy

The research coincides with the launch of OVO Energy’s Smart PAYG+, a lifestyle smart meter based prepayment offering that enables customers to top up using a smartphone app. Users can also check their balance and see their energy usage at a glance to avoid unexpected blackouts.

Justin Cockerill, Managing Director of OVO Smart PAYG+ said: “From being forced to make top-up trips at the most inconvenient times, to household emergencies due to energy suddenly running out, prepayment energy customers have endured a rough ride from the industry. With PAYG+ these frustrating and time-wasting situations are no more! We’re putting the power into the customers’ hands and giving them unprecedented control and convenience over the cheapest possible energy supply.”

OVO Energy is targeting consumers who want to be on prepaid out of choice, but are looking for a smarter implementation – a target audience that could equate to millions of households. According to Ofgem, while 60% of prepayment meters are installed due to debt, just 7% of electricity prepayment customers and 10% of gas prepayment gas customers are currently in debt to their energy supplier.

Over 18,000 customers have already signed up for OVO Energy’s Smart PAYG service, which is one of the UK’s most competitive prepayment tariffs.

While OVO Energy was the first UK supplier to introduce a mobile app for topping up a prepayment service, several other energy suppliers are running smart prepayment trials or starting to launch commercial services. Notably, Utilita has been using smart metering technology since 2008 and now has over 250,000 customers, the majority of whom are dual-fuel prepayment households using smart meters. Other UK suppliers working on smart prepayment include:

Meanwhile, although ScottishPower doesn’t yet offer PAYG using smart meters, it has introduced a system whereby traditional prepayment customers can transfer credit purchased online with a credit or debit card to their meter key using a USB stick.