Abstract Fuel poverty, or inability to afford adequate heating for a reasonable outlay of expenditure, is a significant and under-researched problem in New Zealand. The connection between fuel poverty, and electricity disconnection or ‘self-disconnection’ is analysed for four cities using prepayment metering to pay for electricity. A price comparison analysis on a government-sponsored website showed that prepayment metering was more expensive than other payment options. This website analysis was supplemented by qualitative data from older people with chronic respiratory disease expressing their views about electricity disconnection and prepayment metering. We show that prepayment metering for electricity is more expensive than other payment methods in New Zealand and that older people’s insights provide valuable context to these issues. Under the present payment schedule, the use of prepayment metering to pay for electricity is not a suitable policy instrument to address fuel poverty, which remains problematic. The deregulated electricity market continues to lead to increases in the real price of residential electricity and in the number of people in fuel poverty. We offer policy suggestions for reducing fuel poverty in New Zealand.