‘Self-disconnection’ is an interruption to energy supply to prepayment meters because of a lack of credit on the meter or account. With insufficient funds in a prepayment meter, you effectively disconnect yourself, rather than the supplier having to take steps to enforce any debt. Reasons for self-disconnection can include:1Citzens Advice, Switched on: Improving support for prepayment consumers who’ve self disconnected, April 2018
•insufficient money available to top-up;
•forgetting to top the meter up in time;
•not realising the meter was low on credit.
Under SLC 27A, suppliers must identify and support customers who self-disconnect and offer support to vulnerable customers who might be self-disconnecting and self-rationing (deliberately limiting fuel use to save money). Suppliers must take into account your ability to pay when calculating instalments.2Conditions 27A.1 and 27.8 SLC
Isabel has a mental health condition which makes her forgetful and she regularly self-disconnects her prepayment meters when she forgets to buy top-ups. Her son contacts her supplier who offers to replace her prepayment meter for a standard meter and places her on its Priority Services Register.
Ian and Scott have made a claim for universal credit (UC) and are waiting for their first payment. They do not have enough money to top-up their prepayment meter. They can apply for a short-term advance of UC. They will have to repay the advance by deductions from future payments, but they will not be charged interest.
Imran had a prepayment meter installed to collect arrears. He has an outstanding balance of £182. The prepayment meter was deducting a large proportion of all top-ups to repay the debt and the standing charges. During the winter, Imran found this unmanageable and was regularly self-disconnecting. The supplier agreed to reduce the amount deducted from each top-up for arrears.
Priya’s employment and support allowance has been stopped and she is appealing the decision. She has no income while the appeal is pending and could not top-up her meter. Her adviser contacts a specialist support organisation. It negotiated with Priya’s supplier which agreed to provide discretionary credit which she will pay back at £3.75 a week. The supplier also awards a warm homes discount.
Help if you are facing self-disconnection
– Contact your supplier and explain your situation. It could help with an application to a trust or grant scheme, offer emergency prepayment support or make sure your energy account is set up to meet your specific needs. If your meter is collecting arrears, the supplier may be able to reduce the proportion of the top-up used for arrears. Suppliers are obliged to set repayments at an affordable level. Draw up a financial statement (see p000) to help you negotiate a reduction in your debt repayments. If your supplier is unhelpful, contact a local advice service which may be able to contact the supplier again on your behalf.
– Check with your supplier whether you are eligible for a Warm Home Discount (see here). – Get help from a local advice agency such as Citizens Advice or a law centre. They might be able to contact energy trusts for help (see here) or a specialist advice organisation (see here) on your behalf. – See if you can get help from your local welfare assistance scheme (see here).
– If you are waiting for your first payment of UC, you may be able to get a short-term advance. You will have to repay the advance by deductions from future payments, but you will not be charged interest.
– If you are considered vulnerable or are in a vulnerable situation (see here), contact a specialist advice organisation.
– If you have been referred to a foodbank or are working with a local energy advice/housing association or other body, you may be able to get a fuel voucher. This can provide a top-up of two weeks’ worth of fuel for prepayment meters. Note: this is only available in a limited number organisations which changes frequently.
– Check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax credits you may be entitled to.