Electricity meter accuracy and billing disputes
The measurements taken from the readings of electricity meters are used to calculate the amount of energy supplied to your home and will appear on the energy bill sent to you by your supplier(s).
Accuracy of meters is something that NMO takes seriously as it ensures that consumers pay for the amount of energy they actually use and facilitates fair trade and competition. However, although meter accuracy is fundamental to the energy billing process, there are many factors, unrelated to the accuracy of the meter that may significantly change the amount you are required to pay when you receive a bill from your supplier: Some examples of these factors are:
Energy Price Changes
It is clear that fluctuations in energy wholesale prices will flow through to the consumer. This is of particular impact when energy prices are rising and we have seen, for example, significant increases in the average domestic electricity bill. It is critical you consider this factor when assessing the reasons for higher bills.
Estimated or Incorrect Meter Readings
Suppliers are required to read and inspect your meter(s) at least once every two years and some suppliers may visit more frequently.
Where bills are issued more frequently than actual meter readings are recorded, suppliers can use estimates of energy used, based mainly on past consumption, as the basis of the charges. As there can be a lengthy period between supplier readings, it is important you ensure that the estimated reading is close to that actually recorded by the meter. You can do this by recording the reading on the meter yourself and comparing this reading against the estimate soon after you receive your bill. If a large difference is found, contact your supplier who should make adjustments to your account. If your actual consumption is not similar to that estimated by your supplier, the gap will need to be closed at the time the meter is actually read. This may mean that your supplier will require more money for the energy actually used or will arrange some form of refund where energy use is less than estimated.
There is also a chance that a meter could be incorrectly read. Once again, a quick check of the reading stated within the bill against the register of the meter will ensure that errors are quickly detected.
Changes in Consumption
External influences or changes to your circumstances may cause a change in the amount of energy you use. There are many reasons for a change in consumption and these may include:
- Particularly colder or milder seasonal weather causing you to use more or less energy;
- A change in circumstances e.g. illness, new baby, working at home, etc;
- A faulty appliance using more energy than it should because it is not operating correctly;
- Changing types of appliance - i.e. moving from gas to electricity or vice versa.
Electricity meters are generally reliable and major operational faults are rare. However, if you have considered all of the potential reasons noted above that could have caused a change in your energy bill; there is a chance that your meter may have developed a defect causing it to register inaccurately. You should then contact your supplier who is required to investigate your complaint and make best efforts to resolve the problem (including the possible installation of a “check meter” adjacent to the disputed billing meter). You may also want to consider contacting Consumer Direct for independent advice on energy supply (http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/).
As a final option, when all other routes to settle the problem/dispute have failed, the supplier will make arrangements for the accuracy of the meter to be verified by an independent meter examiner appointed by NMO under Schedule 7 of the Electricity Act 1989.
This is known as a “meter determination” and should be requested through your electricity supplier. However, it should be noted that around 93% of all electricity meters submitted for determination are found to be operating within statutory limits.
Electricity Meter Testing
Electricity meters are initially tested on-site. Your electricity supplier will carry out a preliminary accuracy check and, if necessary, arrange for one of their representatives to discuss any specific concerns.
If concerns over the meter persist, your supplier and/or Consumer Direct can facilitate a request for a meter determination whereby an independent meter examiner will review the facts surrounding the dispute and visit the property to carry out tests on the meter and the meter installation. Meter examiners are employed by SGS (UK) Ltd (www.sgs.com) under contract to NMO to provide an independent meter examination service.
The independent meter examiner and a representative from the supplier will make arrangements to visit the property at a mutually convenient time. The meter examiner will conduct a series of tests on the meter in-situ and the supplier’s representative will then remove the disputed meter and install a replacement. The meter examiner will then discuss the circumstances surrounding the dispute with the consumer.
Finally, the meter examiner will take the disputed meter away for further testing at an independent laboratory. All consumers have the right to witness their meter being tested if they wish.
Following this, the meter examiner will analyse the results and issue a determination detailing his findings. Copies of the determination will be sent to the consumer, the electricity supplier and the owner of the meter (if applicable).
The determination will state if the disputed meters was:
- Of an approved pattern or construction, installed in an approved manner and certified (where necessary); and
- Registering within or outside the prescribed statutory limits (currently +2.5% and -3.5% for UK nationally approved meters) together with any other applicable information.
- If registering outside statutory limits the meter examiner will make an estimate as to how long the meter has been so operating.
The following flowchart shows the process for testing electricity meters:
After the Test
Depending on the findings of the independent meter examiner, which will be set out in the determination report, the supplier will take forward measures to conclude the issue. This may include a plan to either compensate the consumer for over-billing or prepare a payment plan for the consumer where under-billing has occurred.
Possible charges made by the supplier to the consumer
There is no direct cost incurred by the consumer for the meter determination process although the supplier may charge for the removal of the disputed meter and the installation of a replacement. This charge will be refunded if the disputed meter is found to be operating outside the statutory limits (i.e. inaccurately).
Having considered these costs, if you wish to proceed with the meter accuracy test, you should arrange this through your electricity supplier.
Advice on ensuring you receive an accurate and potentially lower electricity bill
There are some things you can do right now to ensure you start receiving lower energy bills:
- Take and submit your own meter reading rather than accepting an estimated bill - suppliers are only obliged to read and inspect your meter once every two years;
- Ask your supplier for the cost of energy at different times of the day and ensure that you are being charged at the most appropriate tariff for your manner of consumption and the equipment you have connected;
- Where possible use energy at times of the day when charges are low (i.e. use of the washing machine or dishwasher);
- Keep a conscious note of what appliances are switched on and for how long they are on; and
- Leaving your TV or computer on standby uses up to half the amount of energy consumed when the appliance is in use. A recent survey in America showed that if people turned off their computers and TVs when not in use, instead of leaving them on standby, supplies equivalent to the production from seven power stations could be turned off.
Further Energy Efficiency Advice can be obtained from your supplier or Consumer Direct (http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/).
Electricity Determinations Report
Around 200 electricity meters are submitted for determination each year and NMO publish the results of these tests on a regular basis. NMO does not use this data for any formal purposes other than to initiate action with meter manufacturers and owners when meter examiners identify systematic faults with certain meter types.
This information within these reports is not intended to represent the overall accuracy of electricity meters in Great Britain and the following points should be considered:
the meters tested were initiated by the consumer or the supplier in circumstances where it was suspected that the meter is measuring erroneously – the sample is not representative of the whole meter population;
only a relatively small sample of meters are tested annually and this needs to be considered against the overall population of electricity meters in Great Britain that is in excess of 27 million.
It is important that these factors are considered in context with the information provided.
Download a copy of the NMO Determination Report (PDF, 264 Kb) .