Pay As You Go (PAYG): 2019 Electricity, Gas & Plans

A pay as you go meter showing a card being inserted, a smart phone, and two piles of coins

What is PAYG? Pay As You Go meters, also known as credit meters or prepayment meters, allow you to pay for electricity and gas before you use them, much like prepaid mobile phones. In Ireland prepay meters are topped up with specific gas or electricity cards, with the exception of smart PAYG meters

For more information on smart PAYG meters, we've put together a Smart Meter Guide. In this article we’ll be talking about traditional meters.

In Ireland, PAYG gas options are not as common as PAYG electricity options, and the majority of energy providers do not supply PAYG meters on demand unless their customers request it and can prove financial hardship, or as part of a repayment plan to clear customer energy debt.

In 2017 the two exclusively PAYG energy suppliers in Ireland, PrePayPower and Pinergy, had achieved 5.9% and 1.4% respective market share of the residential electricity market, a combined 7.3%.

This is impressive given that both companies are relatively new, and seems to indicate an upward trend for PAYG usage as their 2016 numbers were 5.81% and 1.07% in 2016 (6.88% combined).

Pay As You Go electricity

Electricity plug

PAYG Electricity meters in Ireland are provided by electricity suppliers such as Electric Ireland, Pinergy, and PrePayPower free* of charge. Bord Gáis Energy offer free PAYG setup depending on the type of existing meter you have - for older ones you won’t be able to opt in as a usual customer unless you can prove difficulties in paying bills and/or arrears. However, if your meter is one of the newer models, anyone can opt in and they will simply provide you with a code to enter into the meter to change it to a PAYG meter.

BeEnergy, Energia, Just Energy, Panda Power, and SSE airtricity only provide meters for hardship and arrears cases.

*“Free” is a bit misleading as this option results in a higher PAYG service charge in order to recoup the cost, although to be fair the meters are still substantially discounted.

Pay As You Go gas

All PAYG gas meters in Ireland are installed by ESB, however customers can only opt into PAYG Gas for free with PrePayPower only. Bord Gáis and Flogas also provide a PAYG option but if you don’t have a PAYG meter, and unless you can prove financial hardship or that you’re in arrears, you’ll need to pay a fee to have one installed, a cost of about €111. For all other natural gas suppliers such as Energia, Just Energy, Panda Power, and SSE Airtricity, PAYG gas can only be opted into to in order to alleviate financial issues, or as part of a repayment scheme.

How to top up

Money (notes and coins)

Credit can be bought for all gas PAYG meters at any An Post, Payzone, or PostPoint outlets.

Topping up your PAYG electricity meter depends on which energy provider you are with and whether you have a smart meter. All smart meters can be topped up via SMS, your energy supplier’s app, your provider’s online portal, or at any Payzone point. Traditional PAYG electricity meters can be topped up online (depending on your provider), in any Payzone outlet, or by text.

If you’re feeling a little confused about how to read your meter and access the different options, have a look at our handy meter reading guide.

Lost top up card

If you should lose your top up gas card, replacing it is fairly simple, just head to your nearest An Post office or Payzone outlet and they’ll sort out a replacement for €1. Gas top up cards have a minimum top up amount of €10 and a maximum of €250.

Helpful hint!For first time use or replacement cards, you must insert your new card into your meter and leave it there for about one minute in order to register it with your meter, before attempting to top it up. Your gas PAYG meter will only accept credit from the last card inserted into it.

If you’ve lost your top up electricity PAYG card, then you’ll need to contact your electricity provider to order a new one. They can also provide you with your keypad number which you can use to top up in the meantime. There is normally a nominal charge of no more than €2 for replacing your electricity PAYG card.

If you lose an electricity PAYG receipt before you top up your meter, you can either call your electricity supplier’s customer services and they can give you the last purchased top up code, or go back to where you bought the credit and they will reprint the receipt for you. The minimum top up amount you can make is €10 and the maximum is €100.

Helpful hint!Take a photo of the front of your electricity PAYG card as soon as you receive it, or write down the number on it somewhere you can always access such as in your online email account. This is your keypad number, which you can also use to top up your meter should you lose your top up card or misplace it.

Is PAYG for you?

Inquisitive man

There is no denying that the ability to pay off energy debts and potentially make financial hardship easier to manage, makes PAYG seem like an attractive option for customers experiencing these issues.

However even the cheapest PAYG packages have some of the highest energy prices when compared with credit meter rates. Not only do you pay standard rates with PAYG, you also pay a PAYG service charge, while credit meter tariffs can benefit from sign up discounts, online switching discounts, dual fuel discounts, paperless billing discounts, and Direct Debit discounts.

Always make sure to shop around and consider switching every twelve months in order to get the best discount. Here at Selectra we investigate all the nitty gritty details and can help discover the best tariff for you.

As you can see from the table below, based on yearly average consumption, if you have both energy utilities on prepayment meters, you could end up nearly €400 out of pocket. In other words, paying an additional 27.5% on top of the what you'd pay on a decent credit meter tariff.

Example PAYG tariffs Example Credit 24h Meter Tariff The Difference
Electricity Electric Ireland’s SPAYG Urban Tariff (Dual fuel with €150 credit)€961.17 Energia Urban 24 (29% rate discount with €50 cashback)€807.71 €153.46
Gas PrePayPower €871.28 Flogas (22% off unit rate) €630.25 €241.03
Totals €1832.45 €1437.96 €394.49

As such, we advise thinking long and hard before switching to PAYG as saving money on your electricity bills and your gas bills is easier with more traditional options. And if monitoring your energy use or energy saving is your goal, home energy monitors such as Owl can be a more economical solution. Below we’ve put together some of the pros and cons to help you make your decision.

The pros of PAYG

  • It can enable you to reduce your energy usage, to save energy, and reduce your household’s carbon footprint.
  • You can budget your home energy more easily, particularly if you’re on a low or variable income.
  • There is no need to submit estimates.
  • You don’t need to pay large monthly or bimonthly energy bills.
  • No large unexpected gas or electricity bills.
  • Eliminates the possibility of billing errors.
  • Emergency credit is available to PAYG customers as a last resort.
  • You can’t be cut off in the evenings, at the weekend, or on certain holidays should your credit run out.
  • If you have built up some debt from unpaid bills it can be a more manageable form of repayment.
  • It’s useful for landlords as they avoid the risk of being left with large bills to pay if a tenant leaves without settling their account.

The cons of PAYG

  • It will cost you money even when you’re not using any electricity or gas, for example, if you go on holiday, due to standing charges and the PAYG charge.
  • In the case of gas meters, you have to leave your house to go purchase credit.
  • Due to the extra PAYG charge, it’s more expensive than even standard rate tariffs.
  • If you’re not in debt or undergoing financial hardship, switching from a PAYG meter to a traditional credit meter, or vice versa, could incur some hefty charges (from €100-€300).
  • PAYG customers generally don’t have access to the same apps and online portal services as traditional billing customers.
  • If your PAYG plan is updated and any of the charges are changed, you’ll need to manually enter a code (40-60 digits long) instead of being automatically updated (unless you have a smart meter). The code will be given to you when you top up after the price change.
  • If you move to a new house where there is a PAYG meter, you’ll need to reregister it with your details as soon as possible, otherwise you could be paying the wrong tariff (for example if the previous resident had an arrears repayment plan, part of your top up will go to paying off their debt). This is another hassle on top of all the things you need to worry about when moving.
  • If you need to use emergency credit, all standing charges will be suspended and build up as debt that you’ll need to repay on top of the emergency credit next time you top up, making it difficult to calculate how far into the red you might be heading.
  • If you can’t afford to top up, you’ll very quickly be cut off.
  • Particularly for gas meters, and depending on where you live, outlets to purchase credit at might be far enough away to be a hassle to get to - or worse, if your car breaks down or you’re ill.
  • You can’t make use of a level pay plan in order to spread out the higher costs of winter energy bills over the entire year
  • “Free” installation of PAYG meters is not really “free” as it results in a higher PAYG charge, although it is still less expensive overall than choosing to pay up front for the installation.
  • You cannot opt in to PAYG if you or anyone in your household is critically dependent on electrically powered equipment, and it’s generally not recommended for vulnerable consumers(link) or for certain cases regarding customers who need special services.

If you’re still unsure, give us a call at Selectra and we’ll find the cheapest tariff for you, that best suits your needs.

Updated on