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Electricity meters and readings explained

Electricity meters and readings explained

An electricity meter shows how much energy you've used and will dictate how much you are charged on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, so it's vital to understand how to take accurate measurements.

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Your electricity meter will tell you how much you actually use - rather than the estimate your supplier uses for each bill. This will help you decide whether you can get a better rate by switching.

Why is reading my electricity meter important?

It's important to take accurate electricity meter readings because this ensures you don't pay more than you need to.

Electric meters record how much energy you actually use, as opposed to the estimate your supplier uses for each bill. This will also help you decide whether you can get a better rate by switching energy supplier.

Why does my supplier estimate my usage?

The way you are billed for your energy usage often sees your supplier estimate your usage and bill you accordingly (which can sometimes leave you in credit that you can claim back). This is usually the case unless you have a prepayment meter or a smart meter.

The supplier's estimate will be based either on past usage levels or, if you have recently moved, typical or average figures for the area.

electricity meter reading

What if I've been charged too much or too little?

In either case, you'll need to check your electric meter to make sure you aren't paying more or less than you need to - this won't take into account any effort you've made to save energy for which you'd be owed compensation, or changes in routine for which you could be stung at the end of the period unless you pay as you go along.

How to read different electricity meters

There are six main types of electric meters. Taking an electricity meter reading differs depending on the model as each displays information differently. Standard, digital and dial are three ways used to display a basic electric meter reading.

You'll need a different sort of electric meter (and need to give a different sort of reading) for special tariffs such as Economy 7, and another still for prepayment electricity meters.

Standard meter (or electric mechanical meter)

This is the most common type of electric meter and uses a mechanical display to show your readings. You'll need to take a reading of five black numbers from left to right - ignoring any red numbers (if present).

Dial meter

Dial meters - which look like small traditional clocks - are slightly more complex. When reading your dial meter, always remember that dials next to each other go round in opposite directions.

Read the numbers on the dials from left to right, ignoring the last red dial (if it is present), or any dials without figures or hands. If the needle is between two figures, write down the figure the dial has just passed.

The reading now needs adjusting to make allowances for any small variations in the pointer positions. If the figure is directly over the figure, say 5, write down that figure and underline it. Look at the figure underlined.

If one of those numbers in the sequence is followed by a 9, reduce the underlined figure by 1 (so the underlined '5' becomes '4').

Digital meters

Use the first five figures on the digital display, and ignore any last figure that begins 0.1. You may need to press a button to get the figure to display.

Smart meters

Smart meters automatically send meter readings to your supplier so you shouldn't have to. You can keep track of your energy usage using your smart meter's in-home display. If you don't already have a smart meter, you should be offered one in the next few years as part of the government's smart meter rollout.

Special tariffs: Economy 7 and prepayment meters

Economy 7 - There are two types of Economy 7 meter. The first type has two displays - the top row is for 'day rate' electricity marked 'Normal' and the bottom row, which is marked 'Low', shows 'night rate'. You can read more in our Economy 7 guide.

Prepayment meters - There are several types of prepayment meters. Standard prepayment meters can be single or two-rate (with two rows of figures, as with Economy 7). Token meters are read as digital meters.

To take a meter reading, you will usually have to press a button on the meter (often blue). This will change the display from showing the remaining credit to showing the actual reading. From there on, it's just like taking a normal meter reading.

When taking an electricity meter reading, always check both displays. The second type has a single row of numbers that shows 'day rate' electricity. To provide a reading for 'night rate' electricity, press the red button. You can read more in our prepayment meters guide.

What do I do with my electric meter reading?

Once you have your electric meter reading check your last bill and see what the estimated reading was. If it looks like you have been overpaying, you are entitled to a refund from your electricity supplier.

If you have been underpaying contact your supplier to increase your Direct Debit payments or pay it off in one go. Once you've paid off what you owe, you can search for a cheaper supplier.

Suppliers often have a dedicated phoneline which you can use to provide your own electric meter readings. This number should appear clearly on your bill. Some companies will automatically send you a bill based on your electricity meter reading, others may ask whether you want a fresh bill.

What if I think the electric meter reading is wrong?

If your electric meter reading seems wrong, you might want to provide an alternative reading, or contact your supplier to let them know there could be something wrong with your meter.

Customers who have difficulty reading their electric meters

If you are disabled, chronically sick or of pensionable age, you can ask the electricity supplier to help you provide an electricity meter reading every three months if neither you nor anyone else in your household can do so.

If you are in any of these groups, you can also get special advice from your supplier on special controls or adapters for prepayment meters or electricity appliances owned by your supplier.

You could also be eligible for the repositioning of the meter if it is owned by the electricity supplier and is in a position which makes it difficult for you to provide electricity meter readings. This should be free of charge.

Start switching

Once you've read your electricity meter and know how much you are spending, it's a good idea to run an electricity price comparison to find out if there are any better deals out there. Start your switch now to find out how much you could save today.

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