Thousands of households have been struggling to top up their pre-payment energy meters following to an IT failure for Big Six supplier British Gas.
Many customers of the UK’s largest energy firm, which supplies 15 million households, were unable to access their accounts via the firm’s website or app, which has been particularly troublesome for pay-as-you-go customers. Some reported to have been unable to log in to top up their electricity and gas meters.
The problem seems to have originated Sunday and disgruntled customers were still registering their complaints online on Tuesday.
Twitter user @Nadine2512014 tweeted Monday: “Trying to top up my electric on my app as I have no way of topping up at the shop! An yet agian [sic] I am having problems @BritishGasHelp @BritishGas. I don’t really fancy being cut of seeing as I have fish tanks! Sort it out!”
Pre-payment meters typically have a £5 emergency credit, but some users tweeted that they were at risk of running out of that backup.
“Trying to top up on your website and it’s still down. When is it back up? I’m on my Emergency Gas and Emergency Electricity at the moment!!!” tweeted user @AnnaLisaLake at the supplier.
A spokesman for Centrica, which owns British Gas, said: “Some of our customers have not been able to access their accounts with us due to maintenance of our systems.”
“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience and are working hard today to get our operation back to normal.”
He said prepayment meter customers could still top up on the phone or at a pay point location, which are often located in shops.
Around four million British households use pre-payment meters, which were traditionally topped up with keys or cards to which money was added at local shops and newsagents. However, many will now have ‘smart’ pre-payment meters, which can be topped up online or via an app.
It’s unknown how many people are on pre-payment tariffs with British Gas, but it’s expected to be hundreds of thousands. Data from market regulator Ofgem has suggested that British Gas, along with Ovo and Utility Warehouse, has a higher portion of customers on pre-payment tariffs than average. Pre-payment meters are often installed by landlords in privately rented homes or used for customers who have previously struggled with debt to their energy suppliers.
The amount suppliers can charge pre-payment customers per unit of energy is capped, although Ofgem recently announced a £106 hike to its pre-payment cap, to come into effect 1 April. And pre-payment tariffs are one of the most expensive ways to pay for energy. The regulator has recommended pre-payment meters should only be “an absolutely last resort” for customers struggling with energy debt, after it found that energy firms forcibly installed 84,000 pre-payment tariffs in 2017
British Gas has defended its use and forced installation of pre-payment meters. Pre-paid meters are “a way of keeping a customer’s energy supply running when they are in debt and have not contacted us about their bills,” the supplier said.