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A guide to electricity and gas meters

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A guide to electricity and gas meters

Being able to take accurate meter readings is important as it helps ensure you receive accurate bills during your tariff term period. You’ll need to identify the type of meter at your household in order to take accurate meter readings.

The following is a guide to the electricity and gas meters typically found in domestic households.

There are currently five main types of electricity meters in the UK:

  • Standard credit meters.
  • Two types of variable rate meters:
  • Economy 7.
  • Economy 10.
  • Prepayment meters.
  • Smart meters.

For gas, there are three main types of meters:

  • Standard credit meters.
  • Prepayment meters.
  • Smart meters.

The way you take meter readings differs with each meter.

Standard credit meters

This is the most common type of meter in the UK and measures consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh). Standard credit meters have a digital, mechanical or dial display. When taking a reading, you should only include the first five numbers, reading from left to right, and ignoring any numbers in red. Meters in the form of dials are slightly more complicated, but again work from left to right.

Gas credit meters typically involve quarterly billing, which means customers receive their bill every three months. You’ll either have a meter reader visit your house – typically every six months – or you’ll be asked to take readings and send it to your supplier.

What are the benefits of a standard credit meter?

Standard credit meters give you a constant supply of energy and permit a variety of payment methods. They are cheaper than prepayment meters and suppliers offer a wider variety of tariffs for customers with credit meters. As energy is charged at the same rate regardless of the time at which it’s used, you can easily figure out how much energy you’ve consumed and how much you’d need to pay.

However, this does mean you’ll need to budget over a longer period of time, and you won’t be able to take advantage of the cheaper off-peak rates offered with variable rate meters. You’ll also be dealing with estimated bills and risk overpaying – or underpaying – unless you regularly send your supplier meter readings.

Variable rate meters

Also known as Economy 7 or Economy 10 meters, variable rate meters work in the same way as standard meters, presenting readings in kWh. The difference with a variable rate meter is that it displays two or three different readings that represent peak and off-peak rates.

An Economy 7 meter gives two readings: one for peak hours (daytime) and one for off-peak hours (night-time). There are two types of Economy 7 meters: one displays two sets of numbers with peak and off-peak readings specified, while the other displays one set of numbers and includes a button you can press to alternate between the two readings.

The Economy 10 meter is slightly more complicated and gives three readings that help measure the consumption of electricity between the ten off-peak hours specified by the supplier.

What are the benefits of a variable rate meter?

An Economy 7 or Economy 10 meter can mean savings on your electricity bill, as long as you can time your usage to coincide with the set off-peak hours. However, some households may find using energy this way does not generate enough energy to heat their home throughout the day.

Comparing and switching tariffs with an Economy 10 meter is more complicated, as price comparison sites do not offer suitable tariffs for the meter, with Economy 10 tariffs not widely available across all suppliers.

Prepayment meters

Prepayment meters allow you to pay for your electricity in advance using a top-up key, token or smart card. For gas prepayment meters, Quantum meters that use smart cards have largely replaced meters using tokens and keys. You’ll need to top up your token, key or smart card at your local Post Office or participating shop, then feed this credit into the meter to receive an energy supply.

Standard prepayment meters can be single or two-rate, while token meters can be read as digital meters. To take a meter reading, you’ll usually have to press a blue button that will change the display from showing the remaining credit to showing the actual reading.

What are the benefits of a prepayment meter?

It is easy to budget with a prepayment meter as you’ll always know how much you’ll be paying into the meter. A prepayment meter also means you will only buy what you can afford – and if you do fall into debt with your supplier, a prepayment meter can be set up to pay back your supplier every week until your debt is cleared.

On the other hand, a prepayment meter could leave you vulnerable to a back charge, where your supplier changed the unit rate they charge you for energy without correcting prepayment meter calculations at the same time. They’ll then recover the charges from you later. Prepayment meters can be more expensive as customers do not usually benefit from suppliers’ cheapest deals.

Smart meters

Smart meters are a relatively new technology that is slowly being adopted in households across the UK. Smart meters provide readings through an in-home display, and send the readings to your online account and to your supplier. They can also provide you with detailed information on how and when you used your energy, and provide information about your tariff and any changes.

What are the benefits of a smart meter?

Smart meters allow users to closely monitor your energy usage and determine which appliances use the most energy. There is also the potential to take advantage of off-peak rates by carefully timing your usage, and as meter readings are transmitted automatically you won’t have to worry about having to submit readings to your supplier yourself. Smart meters have been credited with helping with the detection of fraud, although there are concerns about privacy due to suppliers having increased access to your data.

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