Smart Prepayment Meters: fuel poor & vulnerable households

Energy suppliers are on the verge of a mass roll out of domestic smart meters.  This has the potential to transform energy retail markets and the way people use energy in their homes. Smart meters hold particular promise for prepayment customers who are disproportionately drawn from disadvantaged and fuel poor groups yet are particularly poorly served by existing prepayment arrangements.

For example, smart prepay could mean that prepayment customers no longer pay more per unit of electricity than non-prepayment customers. And they could confer a range of other benefits particularly suited to vulnerable groups, from automatically finding the cheapest energy tariff to making household budgeting easier. But while all households will pay for the roll out, it is not clear that the benefits of smart meters will be felt by those who have most to gain.

This project, at a critical stage in the development of a new consumer energy system, will provide evidence on the extent to which the opportunities of smart meter infrastructure reach vulnerable and disadvantaged households.  It will use analysis of energy supplier datasets, government statistics and a model of household expenditure to shed light on:

  • How smart metering will influence the diversity of prepayment (PPM) tariffs, the range and quality of services bundled with smart PPM and the costs of PPM tariffs versus credit tariffs.
  • The marketing strategies and support services which will be deployed by the energy suppliers relating to the smart pre-payment offer.
  • How different socio-economic and demographic groups engage with smart pre-payment and associated services.  What outcomes does this effect e.g. energy and consumption patterns, health and social outcomes?
  • The distribution of economic costs and benefits created by smart pre-payment amongst different segments of the pre-payment market?

The findings will generate insights for improving policy and supporting measures so that vulnerable groups get the best out of smart metering.

Project details


Ms Nicky Hodges, Centre for Sustainable Energy

Funding programme

Economic Advantage and Disadvantage

Grant amount and duration


April 2017 - July 2018