By Kelly Wickham
Some residents in the city are struggling to get top-ups for their gas after changes by British Gas.
Those living in Swanfield Estate in Chichester have been hit hard by the decision which sees them having to travel up to half a mile away.
On January 1, British Gas swapped from using Paypoint to Payzone, with a loss of 15,000 places UK-wide where people can pay for their fuel top-ups.
Residents had been getting their top-ups from convenience store, Eddies, on the Swanfield estate, but this service has been stopped. Now, the only places within Chichester that can offer the service are post offices.
The change from Paypoint to Payzone caused concern as there are 15,000 fewer Payzone locations around the country.
The switch also means customers are now required to spend a minimum of £5 when topping up their card compared to £1 previously.
The changes are seen as a huge inconvenience to prepayment customers who struggle to pay their bills and rely on paying small sums at a time to budget better.
A Post Office spokesman said: “There are approximately 450 British Gas customers in the city. There are a lot of options beyond the city centre and for those close to the PO19 6UR (Swanfield estate) postcode.
“The closest option is the Melbourne Road post office in St James Road or Payzone at The Corner Shop in Adelaide Road. Both are within 0.7 miles of the previous location and the Payzone at The Corner Shop is open until 10pm, seven days a week.”
Some British Gas customers complained they didn’t know anything about the top-up changes.
District and city Labour councillor Sarah Lishman said: “Gas key meter customers can no longer use some 15,000 Paypoint locations across the UK, replaced primarily by a much smaller number of post offices.
“Our residents, who were previously able to rely on several Paypoint locations throughout the city, have been unfairly left without easy and affordable access to places to top up their gas and electricity supply.
“To move away from key meters, a credit check is usually required, which is often something our lowest income families and residents would find incredibly difficult.
“The loss of the Paypoint system creates unnecessary travel costs for the people most at risk of fuel poverty when trying to access a suitable location to top-up.
“In some cases in Chichester this may mean the cost of a bus or train trip to Bognor Regis, which is something those not entitled to free travel can afford.
“The increase in the minimum top-up spend from £1 to £5 further exacerbates the problem, creating real issues for those most in need.”
A British Gas spokesman said: “We are continually reviewing our suppliers to ensure we get the best service and value for our customers and we decided to move this service to Payzone as part of this review.
“Ultimately, we intend that more of our customers will be closer to a top-up point as a result of this change as Payzone has committed to adding new locations where we find a customer need – especially in rural areas.
“If a customer finds they are now further away from a top-up point we would ask them to contact us so we can double-check this is the case. If we do identify a gap in our coverage, then we would work with Payzone to add new locations in the area.
“The customer could also have a smart pay as you go meter fitted so they could top up online or, if they are eligible, then we could install a credit meter free of charge.”
Customers with any concerns are advised to contact British Gas’ customer services. They can also find the list of their local Payzone points here: payzone.co.uk/consumers/