/ Home & Energy

Are you losing money due to faulty electricity meter clocks?

Clock with light

They say time is money. But would you be surprised to hear that simply checking the clock on your electricity meter could save you hundreds of pounds a year? Clocks showing the wrong time are going unnoticed…

That’s the experience of a number of Which? members who have told us about problems with time-of-use tariffs, such as Economy 7 or Economy 10.

These types of tariff offer electricity at a cheaper rate during some hours and a higher one the rest of the time.

So, if your meter clock is wrong, you may find you’ve been charged over-the-odds for what you thought was cheaper electricity.

That’s what happened to Which? member Gary Day, who told us he found his own and his neighbours’ meter clocks were up to three hours out.

Thousands in over-payments

GaryRetired engineer Gary only spotted the problem when he went away for a few months, leaving just his heating on during the low-rate hours. When he returned he was shocked to discover a bill showing he had used most of his electricity at the higher rate.

Gary then found his and his neighbours’ clocks were all telling the wrong time and has told us how they won back about £2,300 in over-payments from supplier Swalec. He told us:

‘I have only checked four meters and every single one of them was wrong. I am horrified that there are probably hundreds of others that have these clock errors and don’t realise it.’

Checking your clock

Swalec said staff don’t have to check the clocks when they read meters – but added if they happen to notice any problems they must report them.

Unless the customer owns the meter, it is the supplier’s responsibility to ensure meter clocks are correct. However, current rules don’t require suppliers to check the clocks.

They do say suppliers must take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure the accuracy of the amount and time the electricity was supplied – but this isn’t exactly the same thing.

If you suspect your electricity meter is faulty, the supplier must investigate. But this means the emphasis is on you to check.

And that’s not always simple. Peak and off-peak times vary between tariffs, regions and seasons. Add the fact that the clock can be hard to find on many meters and it can become a pretty tricky task.

Do you think it’s fair that suppliers don’t have to check the accuracy of clocks? Have you found that your own clock is inaccurate?

Comments

Many timers are run by electricity so when your electric goes off the clock stops and does not start until the power returns so the time will be wrong until it’s reset Check all timers frequently

My meter measures all the electricity I use on the day rate. The night rate reading hasn’t changed since I moved in. I called the supplier and their guy said the meter cannot charge me the day rate at night, so I must be getting my night-time electricity free. I suspect this is not the case, and have decided I will turn all my heating on after midnight one night and check the day rate reading before and after (no need to check the night rate reading – it hasn’t changed in two years

If your supplier will not take action then you could contact Citizens Advice or the Energy Ombudsman. You should be able to claim back the estimated amount that you have overpaid.

I have a big proble which I suppose has been going in since I have lived in my property 20 years I am on econ 10 tariff and recently installed smart meter I now notice I am paying full rate instead of off peak if this Han being doing this for 20 years am I entitled to a rebate and compensation

I suggest you start by contacting your energy supplier, Mark. From what I have read, Economy 10 was not available until 2004. Unless you have evidence that the meter clock has been wrong for years I suspect that it will be difficult to make a claim beyond the date of the last meter reading. If it is difficult to check the time settings on your meter then that will help your case.

Clocks that are kept accurate by radio signals are commonplace and inexpensive, so I wonder why problems with meter clocks still exist. Some sort of aerial might be needed for them to work in older properties where meters are often under the stairs.

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Debbie gunter says:
19 December 2018

Did you get this sorted , I have lived in the same house for over 20yrs with off peak hearing and water , I have only just realized that my off peak reading is over 100x more than my regular , there has been a constant ongoing battle with British gas to check my tariff , they will stop at nothing to lie to you , I have tested the fuse box with one of those beeping testers , really cheap from diy if it’s beeping in the day the same as your regular fuse box it’s live and you are better no ripped off !

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Robin Bailey says:
21 February 2018

A variation here – yes the time clock was wrong & SSE came & adjusted. We still thought something wrong with our bill as similar properties bills were much lower on average. Called our electrician who checked everything , no faults. He then switched all our power off at the distribution boards. Result – meter is clocking 20-21 units per day with nothing switched on. SSE cannot get here for a month ! I am recording meter readings daily but how I prove we are not using power I do not know. We are not living in the property at the moment.

Hiten Master says:
7 April 2018

Appliances on timer? Is your meter in a communal area because you can do a kettle/burns test to correctly identify it’s your meter.
If faulty, report the meter fault to your current supplier. They may change your meter and monitor the usage for a year before re-estimating what has been used the previous year assuming all previous bills have been paid.

Debbie gunter says:
19 December 2018

Record on your phone !!

Debbie gunter says:
19 December 2018

Not possible as only feeds heating and water no power points

Adam says:
29 March 2019

All electricity used during the Economy 7 period is charged at the lower night rate (not just the heating and water feeds that only switch on at night). So it’s worth running other appliances at night if it’s convenience as it will be cheaper.

TK says:
3 July 2019

It is important to not blindly “running other appliances at night” but to compare the displayed time on the E7 dual rate meter, confirm what rate it is showing you are in is at the correct displayed times and translate those night rate/cheaper rate start and end times to the real world time whether it be GMT or BST and adapt your other high consumption appliance use to fit well within the measured night rate/cheaper rate time period…. also periodically check the meters time to see if its continuing to slip further out of sync and adjust schedules accordingly. DO NOT ASSUME your E7 period is at the advertised times as in many cases it will not be and if you have a separate timer for say an overnight charged immersion heater its time should match that of the E7 Meters timer if its not you could end up charging the immersion heater with peak rate measured electricity due to the time mismatch.

Hiten Master says:
7 April 2018

Economy 7 meters have a 2 hour allowance either way from the clock on the meter because they don’t adjust automatically to incorporate summer and winter times. Adjust the timings on your appliances to the meter to benefit from the off-peak rate. Sorted.

Debbie gunter says:
19 December 2018

Mine is 12 hrs out

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Adam says:
29 March 2019

12 hours out is beneficial to the customer as most people use more electricity during the day and all electricity used during the Economy 7 period is charged at the lower rate.

TK says:
3 July 2019

12 hours out on an E7 meter CAN be beneficial to the customer as long as there is no independent timer running at the correct time and controlling a high consumption appliance and switching it on during the NORMAL E7 time period because at normal E7 time period the E7 meter with the faulty clock with the wrong time will be counting electricity consumption during the formal E7 time period will be counted as peak rate usage which is NOT beneficial to the customer EVER!

12 hours out on an E7 meter can be beneficial IF the customer knows the real start and end times of the E7 night rate metering and adjusts ALL of their high consumption appliances including independently timed immersion heaters to run during the revised E7 night rate metering period AND the timer inaccuracy is regularly monitored.

I have just realised the timer on my 2-reading meter is faulty when my energy provider said they would be increasing my direct debit. This was at the same time as arranging to have a Smart meter installed. We are super careful with how much energy we use and convinced we have been charged too much, at some point. They are going to carry out a financial/meter reading check for a few weeks to see if I have been overcharged. I also find it hard to chose the correct tariff for our house as we have a solid fuel Rayburn we use in the winter months and an emersion heater in the summer.

Debbie gunter says:
19 December 2018

This is disgusting , to continue ignoring consumers even though it’s clearly obvious there is a problem even getting warrants to remove meter once you are pushed into fuel poverty so they can add their overcharging onto your key meter and dispose of the evidence , harassment from phone calls then debt collectors all whilst people are trying to get some sense from their suppliers , shame on the fuel giants and the share holders that expect their data bonus this Christmas whilst families can’t afford to heat their homes , shame on you

I have been plagued with problems since moving to my property in 1988; my economy 7 immersion heaters keep burning out and cost a fortune to replace; plumbers and electricians say that it because either the heater is affected by the scale that builds up at the bottom of the cylinder, or that it has to “work Harder” than the other, day-unit heater, because it is at the bottom of the tank where the water is colder; now my economy 7 night-storage panel-heater’s thermal cut-out keeps “tripping out”; one engineer said he thought there was an “intermittent problem with the telecom switch supplied by the electricity supplier”; all the houses on my estate were equipped with the economy 7 electricity; I am so far the only one who has not converted to gas central and water heating (I had a bad experience with gas at my last home); has anyone else had these problems?

I do not use Economy 7, but I’m not convinced you have been given good advice. Immersion heaters don’t usually go down to the bottom of the tank. I wonder if the tradesman estimated the amount of scale using a stick when the old heater was removed. A thermal cut-out is a safety device to provide protection against overheating, so there is likely to be a problem with the temperature controller if the thermal cut-out is operating.

Gas heating is normally significantly cheaper to operate, but installation of a radiator based system is quite disruptive. Unless there is gas in the house you are likely to have to pay for a connection.

TK says:
2 June 2019

What about potentially faulty Economy 7 relay that is sticking ON so heaters remain powered long after the night rate timer has switched off and normal day rate has started… who is responsible for the repair/replacement of the relay? The landlord or the current electricity supplier?

TK says:
2 June 2019

This article seems to be confusing timers… if the Economy 7 Meters internal timer is out it makes no difference other than providing the night rate power at the non-standard time… which could be very handy depending upon your premises and sleeping times as the power company gets no indication of the error and you will be billed just fine IF that is the only timer involved and the connected Economy 7 relay is functioning normally. If the time error is in your favour do not get a smart meter installed as that will put E7 time period back to unhelpful normal. The problem arises if you if you have an independent secondary or even tertiary timer controlling immersion heaters or other high energy devices like washing machines and their timer is not synchronised to the main E7 timer and the power is provided from the consumer unit and not the night rate storage heater feed… just sync up the timers and fine tune the exact times during the off schedule night rate period to avoid wasting power.

Moved from SSE to Bulb early this year, then discovered the analogue timer for the Economy 7 was running a 26 hour cycle so constantly changing and impossible to set my immersion heater timer. The house is warm some mornings then as the days go by it’s cold in the morning warm in the evening.
Contacted Bulb in January, they say they have no meters and that the timer and meter needs to be changed. Latest email resulted in them advising me to move to another service supplier who may have access to meters and therefore be able to resolve the problem. Unbelievable!

TK says:
14 June 2019

How about requesting an economy 7 smart meter? I just called up bulb customer support and the agent said the currently offered smart meter does support economy 7 installations as well as their beta 3 tier Smart tariff that might be usable if the smart meter can signal the night rate relay properly.

Margaret Basset says:
12 June 2019

I also switched to Bulb from EDF and when I asked for the E7 analogue timer to be be corrected they sent a Siemens engineer who couldn’t fit the new meter/timer without me getting the solar installation moved which cost me £250 from EEC. Then Bulb said they couldn’t supply a new meter and suggested I switch supplier. I realise I can benefit from the cheap rate coming on during the day, but conversely because I have solar panels I am paying the high rate at night when the solar isn’t working.

Sue says:
17 June 2019

Hi , my electric meter clock is 7 hours behind the correct time and I do my washing at night and use a dehumidifier…I have economy 7 … … I don’t know whether to let anyone know .. or if I am due any compensation .??????

Shhh.🤫

I suggest you apply for compensation. It might be difficult to prove how long the meter clock has been wrong for, but in view of the fact that the company is responsible for maintaining the equipment, you should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Why would you expect compensation when cheap rate has crept into peak rate? Running machines at night when asleep is not much better than running them unattended. Washing machines can leak and dehumidifiers can collect dust and catch fire if not maintained regularly.

Sue mentions compensation, so I assume she has been running the machine when cheap rate should apply but being charged full rate because the meter clock was wrong.

I am strongly opposed to leaving washing machines, dryers and dishwashers on at night and when out of the home because of the fire risk. As you say, leakage is another risk.

Many years ago I lived in a rented flat and discovered that the landlord’s meter was set to charge about four times the permissible rate. Once it had been reset I calculated what I had been overcharged and deducted it from the next rent payment. I had been overpaying for a matter of weeks but the landlords other tenants might have been overpaying for months or even years to heat their flats.

“Compensation” seems the name of the game these days – often plus “automatic”. I think it is fine to compensate people for a real and definable loss, with maybe a goodwill payment for the effort in determining it. I don’t think it is fine for everyone to be “compensated” if they have not suffered any real loss. Remember who coughs up the compensation money in the end – all the other customers.

However…

I suggest Sue looks first at her off peak (night-time) energy use compared to her normal daytime use. Unless it is about the same, or more, she may be paying more than necessary for her energy (daytime rates on economy 7 are substantially more expensive than a normal tariff).

In this case ‘compensation’ would be recovery of the estimated overpayment that has resulted because the company’s meter clock was set incorrectly. If Sue has been overcharged, then she has suffered a real loss.

I agree. I was commenting on the current fashion that we should automatically be compensated, not on Sue’s particular circumstance. as I said “I think it is fine to compensate people for a real and definable loss…“.

There is no loss. You get 7 hours of cheap electric at night that has lapsed into peak rate so you are in effect paying less than you should be as you use more electricity during the daytime.

I think of it as getting compensation for the inconvenience of the power cut and the more you go on about it, the more likely that little perk will end.

When I got back holiday a couple of years ago I was compensated “automatically” for the loss of our water supply – due to a major mains emergency repair. It didn’t affect us as we had been away at the time. We don’t seem to appreciate who pays the compensation.

As you say, alfa, we do not know whether Sue suffered a real loss or a gain, but the compensation bandwagon culture that organisations seem to campaign for kicks in. I believe we should be required to demonstrate a loss before claiming compensation, and the process for doing that should be the one to make straightforward and fair.

Automatic compensation was brought in for regulated utilities, especially in the case of monopolies like water companies, in order (a) to encourage them to be more efficient and reliable in delivering their services because defaults would be penalised, and (b) because they had been somewhat disobliging and tardy in handling claims for recompense for the inconvenience experienced. The intention, of course, would be that the payments and the cost of administering them would hit their profits and not impact on customers.

While I deplore the compo culture that has led to unjustified and exaggerated claims I do believe there should be a mechanism for redressing deficiencies in the provision of a service which, unlike goods, cannot be returned or rejected. It is about the only form of rectification that can be applied immediately and does have a corrective effect in due course. I do not accept that for compensation to be payable there has to be a loss quantifiable in money terms; inconvenience can be minor or cause hardship. In many households today without an indirect cold water tank the unplanned loss of the mains supply, even for an hour or so, can be a serious problem.

Oliver Gunnell says:
26 November 2019

Mine has gone about 22 mins slow in the 10-12 years since it was replaced, we used to
have the radio teleswitch type before without a clock.

The meter is a Ampy brand and has a calendar for winter and summer time, in my area its known
as ex Norweb and E7 times are 22:30 – 00:30 and 02:30 – 07:30, the main reason I don’t want a Smartmeter as apparently E7 times are fixed 00:00 – 07:30 and I like to dome some washing/drying in my case at 22:52 onwards.

Linda says:
11 July 2020

We are on economy 7 and are having replacement storage heaters (we have solar panels) however the electrician wants to remove the timer from alongside of the meter. If he does this how will the meter know when to switch from day to economy 7?

Barry Williams says:
22 October 2020

I have noticed that my Economy 7 day rate is being charged at the lower amount per KWh and over night is it the higher amount per KWh, leaving it like this could I get in trouble?

david screen says:
26 October 2020

My mother in law has had a time switch problem for 6 months, GREEN NETWORK ENERGY are the supplier, they received a fault report in MAY 2020, and have still not managed to rectify it remotely or send an engineer to change the equipment. Several follow up emails over the last month have not had any action other than lip service. I then tried to get myself added to her account to be in a position to deal with the problem on her behalf. On 2 separate occasions going to stand with her in her flat to meet to issue of the data protection rules to get her consent to be added to be second contact authority, has still not been done.
I then escalated it to the ombudsman , but in my complaint forgot to add the original fault (MAY 202) but covered to issue of not being added as a second contact . Unfortunately this meant they had 8 weeks to deal with the complaint and the case was closed.

I have now made another formal complain but will now have to wait until December before the ombudsman can act. The Economy 7 heating comes on at 13.15 Hours and goes off at 20.15Hours instead of 12:00 to 7.00 Hrs. meaning the heat is distributed overnight not during the day as expected and therefore cold every morning until it switches at 1.15pm.

My mother in law is 88 years old vulnerable and winter is now here.

The Company just DO NOT and WILL NOT get the fault repaired.

If anyone is thinking of switching with ECONOMY 7 i would not recommend GREEN NETWORK ENERGY in any way.

I have written now to the Director of the company and also contacted my local MP to bee if it can add further pressure, i don’t hold much hope at this stage. Once all time limits are met i can then deal with the issue myself hopefully.

In the mean time i do hope any thought of using them is considered carefully.

I’ve just been emailing Green Energy about this. My meter is only 20 mins out now but obviously was 100 mins out during summer.

Quote.
“Unfortunately, this is just how Economy 7 and 10 meters were made. The timing element in them is not able to adjust whenever the clocks change.
New smart meters and Time of Use Tariffs have fixed a number of these issues. However, these are still being rolled out.
I am very sorry for the inconvenience, however, there is nothing we can do.”

I have individual timers on appliancess and adjust as neccessary but with Economy 10 there are quite a few hours when I have overpaid.

I’m confused why anyone has timers or clocks on their meters – my meter system has a Radio Teleswitch for what was the electric board to send a signal out to turn the meters between off-peak and day-rate; there’s no ‘timer’ and no ‘clock’. When it was installed I think in the early ’80s, we were told that was the new method and everyone was being converted nationally, as it was more efficient etc. We know it is being switched back and forth, because the night-rate and day-rate meters both show readings increasing day by day by around the expected daily amount of units. Our storage heaters were wired in to automatically turn on and off charge via the teleswitch, as it switches the supply. However obviously electric boards are no more as they all went privatised decades ago, so I don’t know who now sends out the radio teleswitch signal. Anything other than the wired-in storage heaters that we want to run on night rate, then we have to set manual timers on them, such as dishwasher, washing machine. However, it has always been 1am to 8am, but my son has just told me he’s been hearing the storage heater fire up at midnight, and hears the noise at random other times. We’ve not been notified of any change; how do we even check when we don’t know who controls the radio signal?

JT – I expect the meters have software that is tuned in to the national time signal transmissions from the National Physical Laboratory’s atomic clocks at Teddington and transmitted from the government radio station at Anthorn in Cumbria. The meters will then synchronise with the time signal and adjust automatically for the start and end of BST. The same technology is used for many other applications like alarm clocks and heating controls.

Electricity suppliers do not all use the same ‘on’ and ‘off’ times for the night and day rates, and might have different times for different tariffs as there are both seven-hour economy rates and ten-hour rates, so they programme their meters accordingly. Some electricity tariff controllers have manual adjustment which means they can become out of synchrony with the correct charging times leading to overcharging. Each electricity supplier is obliged to inform consumers on request what the ‘on’ and ‘off’ changeover times are so they can optimise the use of the lower night rate for charging storage radiators, immersion heaters and domestic appliances.

Since the 1980s, all the electricity companies have had their own data channel transmitted as part of the Long Wave BBC Radio 4 signal.

There have been various suggestions that the service was to be phased out, but it continues, and it will presumably last as long as Long Wave radio does. No doubt the BBC makes a little money out of it, and they have to confirm it does not affect the audio signal quality.

Survival of the Long Wave signal probably relies on the Shipping Forecast continuing (and historically, Trident submarines checking if the UK has been destroyed so they should sail to Australia).

Possibly no new equipment that uses the Radio 4 signal is being made.

With Economy 7, as well as a lower rate for all electricity consumption at night, many people want to continue with separate Economy 7 circuits in their homes that are only live at night. There is then no need to buy extra timers. Furthermore, that ought to be an option for new Economy 7 users.

This was traditionally all done by a unit alongside the two-dial Economy 7 analogue electricity meter, with a mechanical clock (or Radio 4 receiver) that sent a signal to the meter to use the ‘Low Rate’ dials for all power and also operated a mains relay internally at exactly the same time to activate the extra circuit.

Such systems have worked for decades.

With new equipment, that means a smart meter (with its own internal clock) needs to provide a signal wire to a separate mains ‘contactor’ (relay) unit.

Alternatively, the whole thing can be combined into one large box, if the supplier is willing to offer one – those ‘do-everything’ special Economy 7 meters do exist, because there is a market for them. There are two thick cables in, and four thick cables out, leading to the property’s two separate consumer units (or different parts of the same one).