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14 million homes face £288 million bill shock as unread meters hide rise in lockdown power use

Written by William Owen, Energy expert

3 June 2020

  • Almost 14 million households with traditional meters are facing a £288 million energy bill shock as rising lockdown power use is belatedly added to bills

  • More than two million households who rely on visits from meter readers could see direct debits jump by £25 a month in September

  • Nearly 10 million bill payers who submit their own readings also face an average £20 a month leap

  • One in five customers (19%) never take their own meter readings with half saying they don’t know how and 7% unaware where their meters are located

  • Impact of bill shock will hit vulnerable customers hard with a fifth (21%) of those reliant on meter readers eligible for the Priority Services Register 

  • Uswitch.com shows customers how to take a meter reading and urges them to do so as soon as possible to stay on top of bills.

Almost 14 million households are heading for a £288 million energy bill shock as months of increased power use during lockdown is belatedly added to bills, according to new research from Uswitch.com, the comparison and switching service. 

The lockdown has prevented official meter readers from visiting properties, meaning that current bills don’t accurately reflect increased household power use — estimated to have risen by £16 a month as we spend more time at home

More than two million households with traditional meters — nearly a fifth of bill payers (19%) — never take their own meter readings and rely on their provider visiting their property

With meter readers prevented from visiting homes for the last three months, it could be more than six months before these households see their bill change, meaning direct debits rising by as much as £25 a month in September

This increase will hit vulnerable households harder, with a fifth (21%) of those who rely on meter readers being over pensionable age, or having a disability or a long-term medical condition

Meanwhile, almost 14 million households who submit their own meter readings have not done so for an average of two months and six days. This means they last submitted readings before the UK went into lockdown and their bills do not currently reflect how much their energy use has risen as a result of spending more time at home.

The delay means these customers could face a £20 rise in their bills when their extra energy use is eventually added to their direct debits.

Many struggle to read their energy meters, with almost one in ten (7%) adults saying they don’t even know where their meter is. The issue is most challenging among younger people, with a fifth (18%) of 18- to 34-year-olds unable to locate their meter.

Of those who do not read their own meters, half (50%) said they don’t have the ability to do so. A fifth (18%) say they can’t reach their meter while another fifth (18%) simply can’t be bothered .

Uswitch.com is showing customers how to read their own meter, and urges them to send readings to their suppliers as soon as possible to reduce the impact of any bill shock.

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch.com, comments: “The lockdown has forced millions of us to use more energy, but many bills aren’t yet reflecting this. 

“Two million people rely on their meters being checked for them. With up to six months since the last reading, they could see their energy costs leap £25 a month in September when their bill finally catches up with their usage. 

“This bill shock will disproportionately affect the vulnerable, who make up a fifth of those who rely on meter readers.

“Checking your meter takes a matter of minutes once you know where it’s located and which numbers to report on. If you can give your supplier an accurate reading, they reward you with an accurate bill — rather than give you a nasty surprise later on.

“As a rule of thumb, it is worth checking your meter once a month, especially if your energy consumption has changed recently.”

Find out how you could save nearly £1,000 a year with Uswitch here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Charlottte Nunes

Phone: 020 3872 5614

Email: charlotte.nunes@uswitch.com

Twitter: @uSwitchPR

Notes to editors

Notes to editors:

Opinium surveyed a sample of 2,001 UK adults from the 15th to 19th May 2020. Results were weighted to reflect a nationally representative criteriaRespondents were asked ‘What sort of meter do you currently have for the following energy types in your home?’ 50% have a gas and/or electric standard meter or economy 7 meter. 

50% of 27.6 million households in the UK = 13.8 million.

  1. Respondents with standard or economy meters were asked ‘Does a meter reader visit your home to take your meter readings?’ 19% said ‘yes – my meters are only read by meter readers’. 49% said ‘meter readers sometimes come, but readings are also taken in other ways’. 32% said ‘no – meter readings are always taken in other ways’. 

Calculations for households that rely on meter readers

Number of households that rely on meter readers: 27.6 million households in UK x 50% x19% = 2.6 million

Average time between meter reader visits for those who rely on meter readers = 6.8 months.

Median time until next visit = 6.8 months / 2 = 3.4 months.

Assume meter readers restart their visits three months after lockdown started, therefore average time without the meter being read = three months + 3.4 months = 6.4 months

Uswitch estimates household energy use will go up by £16 a month because of extra lockdown usage. 

Assume the 6.4-month backlog of increased use is spread over 12 months when recalculating direct debit.

£16 x 6.4 months divided by 12 + £16 = £24.53 bill shock.

2.6 million households who rely on meter readers face £63.8 million bill shock.

Calculations for households that supply their own meter readings

Number of households that read their own meter: 27.6 million x 50% x 81% = 11.2 million

Average time between sending meter readings = 3 months.

Time since they last submitted reading = 2.2 months (ie. no readings since lockdown).

 £16 x 3 months divided by 12 + £16 = £20 bill shock.

11.2 million households who supply their own readings face £224 million bill shock.

Totals: 11.2 million + 2.6 million = 13.8 million households 

£63.8 million + £224 million = £287.8 million bill shock

13.8 million households face £287.8 million bill shock

  1. Respondents with standard or economy meters were asked ‘Does a meter-reader visit your home to take your meter readings?’ 19% said ‘yes – my meters are only read by meter-readers’.

  2. Respondents who said only meter readers take their readings were asked ‘Why do you rely on a meter reader to visit your home to take your meter readings?’ 25% said ‘concerned I might get it wrong’. 18% said ‘it doesn’t feel like an important task’. 18% ‘can’t be bothered’. ‘18% said ‘it’s too difficult to reach’. 16% said ‘haven’t got the time’. 14% said ‘it’s too difficult to read’. 11% said ‘I don’t know how to submit them’. 

  3. Respondents were asked ‘Do you know where your gas and/or electricity meter is located for your property?’ 7% said ‘No’. 18% of 18-34 year olds said no.

  4. Respondents who rely on meter readers to check their meters were asked ‘Would you be eligible for your supplier’s Priority Services Register?’ 21% said they were eligible. 

  5. Uswitch estimates that household energy bills could increase by up to £195/year for households with medium annual consumption on a Standard Variable Tariff. £195/12 = £16.40

  6. Respondents who always or sometimes submit their own meter readings were asked ‘When did you last update your supplier with your meter readings?’ The average months since the last meter reading was supplied was 2.2 months. 

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