Estimated bills mean consumers pay more for energy


Ann Robinson,
Director of Consumer
London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — June 13, 2008 – Research recently conducted for uSwitch, an independent price comparison and switching service in the U.K., reveals that consumers believe energy suppliers are the worst culprits when it comes to sending out inaccurate bills.

The research reveals that over a third (34%) of energy customers have been billed inaccurately during the last two years, with nearly one in five (19%) on the receiving end of an incorrect bill on more than one occasion. These inaccuracies took on average just over two months to sort out.

Although suppliers work hard to resolve billing issues swiftly – 13% are dealt with successfully within a day – the reputation of the energy industry is suffering. Consumers rate it as the worst for errors, behind traditional bureaucratic bunglers such as Council Tax departments and the Inland Revenue. Even though 65% of energy customers have had their meter read by their supplier within the last six months, many fall foul of a discrepancy between previous estimated readings and the actual reading. uSwitch says this is the root cause of the industry’s issues over accuracy.

Over 11 million energy customers (43%) have unexpectedly owed money after a meter reading because the actual reading was far higher than previous estimates. The problem is widespread – only 49%, less than half, of energy customers have never unexpectedly owed money to their supplier because of a difference between estimated and real readings.

uSwitch believes that, because, the industry is working with outdated meter technology, it is relying on a system of estimated and actual meter readings rather than being able to provide real time bills. Energy usage also fluctuates throughout the year, which adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult process. It is therefore not surprising that the industry has gained a name for inaccuracy. In fact, payments match usage on only 26% of energy bills – 40% of customers were owed money on their last energy statement, while 26% were in the red to their supplier.

Suppliers are working with consumers to overcome these issues. EDF Energy has introduced ‘Read Reduce Reward’, a scheme whereby it gives customers Nectar points for submitting their own meter readings. Scottish and Southern Energy encourages customers to send in their readings using text messages, and British Gas is shortly going to be bringing in a new SMS texting scheme too. All suppliers are also involved in smart meter trials. For example, E.ON is piloting smart meters as part of a two year £12 million ($24 million) investment in metering technologies.

The efforts suppliers are making seem to be having some impact – 65% of energy customers have supplied meter readings to their supplier within the last 6 months, over and above the readings taken by suppliers. Overall, the number of consumers contacting energy watchdog body energywatch about suppliers has fallen.  

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at, comments: “I suspect that suppliers will continue to be haunted by this reputation for inaccurate bills until smart meters finally lay that ghost to rest – but unfortunately that won’t be for many years. In the meantime suppliers are trying to work with their customers to resolve the issues and tackle the root cause – discrepancies between estimated and actual readings – which can often leave households unexpectedly out of pocket.

“Suppliers are making it easier than ever for customers to read and supply their own meter readings, and in some cases are even rewarding those who do so. But whether there is a reward or not, I would still urge consumers to respond to meter reading requests or to supply their own readings. Relying on estimates is never a good idea as you could end up in debt or struggling with an unexpected bill. The good news is that 65% of energy customers have given their supplier a meter reading within the last 6 months – a positive sign that consumers are ready to help suppliers provide a better, more accurate, service.”