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Empowered? Examining self-disconnection in a postal survey of electricity prepayment meter consumers in New Zealand


Prepayment metering is an electricity payment method often used by low-income consumers. Fuel poverty is an important public health problem in New Zealand, and is likely to be a particular problem for those using prepayment metering. This paper details a nationwide postal survey of consumers undertaken with the support of three major electricity retailers, which investigated the advantages and disadvantages of using prepayment metering from a consumer perspective. The study surveyed a total pool of 359 randomly selected consumers across the three companies, a response rate of 48%. The study found that while almost all respondents felt the benefits of using prepayment outweighed the risks of running out of credit or ‘self-disconnection’, 53% of respondents experienced self-disconnection in the past year. Of concern, over a third of respondents experiencing self-disconnection were without electricity for more than 12 h. The frequency of self-disconnection was also high, with 17% of those disconnecting reporting six or more events in the past year. Government intervention could reduce the risks and disadvantages involved with using prepayment metering, which could then support initiatives aimed at reducing fuel poverty.