Hemel customers slam British Gas for introducing crippling top up minimum for pay meters
Some British Gas customers in Hemel fear they will have to resort to payday loans or live without gas after the supplier introduced a minimum top up for pay meters.
The energy giant's customers can pay bills and top up prepaid meters at any Post Office and Payzone location from January 1, 2020, but will restricted to topping up £5 or more from that date.
British Gas users like Hemel's Alex Bayes fear they don't have enough to meet the minimum spend.
Previously, customers could top their meter up with £1 or more under the pay-by-use system used by more than 5 million people in the UK.
Ms Bayes said she has to budget stringently after the energy provider announced plans to raise prices by £119 for 3 million customers from April 1.
She said: "I live in a council house, me and my partner both work but we don't earn high wages so we always wanted to stay on a pre-pay meter so we can budget effectively.
"A monthly or even quarterly bill would not work well for us - although we budget our utilities I like to know how much gas I have left.
"The week before payday we are usually onto emergency gas, our rates have gone up every year, we're then charged for going onto the emergency credit meaning when we do top up again, we're still in the negative.
"They also stopped you from being able to top up using a credit or debit card. In the past we've had to top up on a high APR credit card just to heat the house and have hot water. Taking away the opportunity to put £2 on meter just to see you through a day or two means finding a fiver when all you have is the change in your pocket until pay day," she added.
Ms Bayes, who researched available deals, said she has been encouraged to switch to a smart meter, even though she wouldn't be able to afford the installation fee.
She said the new rule signals that the company is out of touch with its customers.
"As British Gas have now signed a contract with Payzone, so I had to research and navigate their website to find out where and how I can top up only to be met with 'why not get a smart meter instead?' It feels like these companies have zero idea how families like mine actually live or budget," she said.
"The government made promises that as most people on lower wages have pre-paid meters they would ensure the energy companies would make sure we never paid more for being on a pre-paid meter, but with regular increases from British Gas I feel like we're being ripped off and it's not like it's something you can live without." she added.
PayZone, owned by the Post Office, believes the exclusive contract with British Gas could make topping up for customers easier, bringing business to 11,500 Post Offices and its 13,000-strong terminal network.
A spokesperson for Centrica, the owner of British Gas, said: "We opted for £5 minimum top ups when we made the switch from Paypoint to Payzone. This is then consistent with our online top up service where the minimum is also £5."