Eligibility criteria for prepayment fuel vouchers vary

12 January 2024
What was claimed

People with less than £4 on their prepayment meter can get a £49 fuel voucher that does not have to be repaid, and can apply for this twice a year.

Our verdict

Fuel vouchers do exist, but they are provided by local authorities, energy companies and charities under a range of different schemes with varying eligibility criteria. We’ve not seen a scheme which operates nationwide in the way the Facebook post describes.

A Facebook post shared more than 53,000 times claims that if you have less than £4 credit on your prepayment energy meter, you can apply for a fuel voucher worth £49 which is provided for those on low incomes or benefits.

It states that if “you don’t get paid for several days” you can “phone and ask for a fuel voucher” that doesn’t need to be repaid, and that it comes in the form of a PIN sent via text which can be redeemed for credit at a shop. 

The post, duplicates of which have been circulating widely on Facebook, also claims that such vouchers can be applied for twice a year, but does not specify which number people should ring for help. 

Fuel vouchers do exist, and some of them are worth £49 and operate in a similar way to that set out in the post. But the charity which organises fuel vouchers says the post’s explanation is misleading—there is not one overarching fuel voucher scheme which provides help. Local authorities, energy companies and charities operate a range of different schemes with varying eligibility criteria, and with funding which can vary by region. We’ve not seen a scheme which operates nationwide in the way the Facebook post describes.

If you are a prepayment energy customer who is struggling financially, in the first instance you should contact your energy supplier, Citizens Advice or your local authority for advice about what support is available in your area, and what the eligibility criteria are.

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Who provides fuel vouchers?

A fuel voucher is a code, given to a customer in a letter, text message or email, that can be used to add credit to a gas card or electricity key, and does not need to be repaid.

Citizens Advice told Full Fact that people are not “automatically entitled” to receive fuel vouchers, and need to meet “qualifying criteria, which will vary slightly depending on who is distributing the fuel vouchers”. 

The Fuel Bank Foundation is a charity that partners with local authorities, debt support charities, community groups and housing associations to provide fuel support vouchers. A spokesperson for the organisation told Full Fact the Facebook post is “misleading”.

They said: “As a requirement for the funding that we receive, we must ensure financial support is given to people living in “fuel crisis” so clients must meet certain criteria. 

“We don’t offer fuel vouchers directly—instead help is accessed via our network of Fuel Bank partners across the UK. Our partners can help people who are struggling to keep their prepayment meters topped up. They will look at all the issues that are making things difficult, assess their situation and they can issue a fuel voucher if they qualify for one.”

What support do energy suppliers provide?

Full Fact asked a number of energy companies what support they provide.

British Gas told us that prepayment meter customers “regardless of supplier” can receive a fuel voucher from the British Gas Energy Trust. These vouchers are funded by British Gas and applications are made on behalf of households by either British Gas or one of the trust’s partners such as Citizens Advice. The vouchers provided are typically worth £49.

Although this scheme appears similar in many ways to that described in the Facebook post, it does not necessarily operate in the same way nationwide—British Gas told us “available funding may differ in regions”. Applications are also checked against the criteria of whether a vulnerable customer is experiencing financial, mental or physical health difficulties. It’s not clear whether customers must have less than £4 credit in order to apply.

British Gas also told us about its separate plans to offer free credit up to a value of £250 for certain eligible customers on prepayment meters.

A spokesperson for E.on said it works with the Fuel Bank Foundation and urged customers to get in touch if they are struggling and need support.

Ovo Energy said it offers additional support credit, to be repaid by a customer at a later date.

Scottish Power offers prepayment vouchers worth £60 to customers who are “in hardship” and engaging with an agency such as Citizens Advice or food banks—but it does not accept calls from customers requesting the vouchers.

Octopus Energy told us it has an “Octo Assist” fund for customers experiencing financial hardship which offers “a number of support options based on circumstances and need”, including monetary credits, personalised account support such as prepayment plans and standing charge holidays for up to six months.

Citizens Advice also says energy suppliers can offer temporary credit if a customer with a prepayment meter has run out of gas or electricity, but this must be repaid

Local authorities can help too

Some local authorities also operate their own schemes. The Local Government Association told us councils decide how to administer local welfare schemes and the Household Support Fund (which allows local authorities in England to make discretionary payments to people most in need of help towards the rising cost of bills). It added that such schemes “vary in each area”, with energy vouchers being “just one of the ways” that support is provided.

It said that support schemes, often in partnership with voluntary and community organisations, may provide cash payments, food and energy vouchers or “in-kind” support such as furniture and white goods. The value of such fuel vouchers and their eligibility criteria can vary. 

For example, Manchester City Council offers fuel support for those struggling to pay energy costs or at risk of disconnection, and says to qualify, Manchester residents must receive certain benefits and have no capital or savings. 

Households must also have a child under five years old, or someone who has a disability or serious health needs, or someone who is over pension age or vulnerable, in order to qualify. The council limits the payment (between £30 and £49 to buy emergency fuel or avoid disconnection) to one a year, and it can only be applied for online through its welfare provision scheme.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council in London, meanwhile, says residents struggling to top up their prepayment meters could receive in a six-month period up to three vouchers worth £30 (£49 during the winter), if their supplier cannot help.

Other benefits for those at risk

Some low-income households on certain benefits in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may also be eligible for Cold Weather Payments if the temperature drops to 0°C or below for seven consecutive days (or is forecast to do so) in their area. Eligible households receive £25 for each period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.

Eligible Scottish residents on low income benefits can receive an automatic Winter Heating Payment, worth £55 for 2023/24.

Some people born before 25 September 1957 are eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment, which ranges between £250 and £600. This applies to people who live across the UK, as well as people who live in some European countries who have a “genuine or sufficient” link to the UK. 

It is also possible to get £150 discounted from a household’s electricity bill between October and 31 March under the Warm Home Discount Scheme if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, or are on a low income and have high energy costs. This scheme does not run in Northern Ireland, though there is other support available there such as the Affordable Warmth Scheme.

We’ve previously fact checked a number of misleading claims about energy and the cost of living crisis, including how the media misreported the Energy Price Guarantee and a viral claim about ‘average energy costs’ in different European countries that actually featured wholesale prices.

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