/ Home & Energy

Have any utility providers ever overcharged you?

smart meter

Earlier this week, some SSE customers found their smart meters were overestimating their bills by up to £33,000 for a day’s power. Thousands is laughable, but would you notice if you were overcharged by a few pounds here and there?

When I started to rent a new flat early last year, I went through the usual process of setting up new direct debits and payments for utilities.

Council tax was dizzingly cheaper in this London borough than it had been in my last, energy seemed reasonable enough, and broadband offered a great deal through a ‘refer a friend’ promotion.

But establishing our water bill didn’t run so smoothly.

High water rates

When we moved in, we got sent a water bill for £552 for the year.

This struck us as higher than normal, but we weren’t immediately confident it was incorrect.

We were doing a bit of digging into what we had paid in other rented accommodation to make sure when, shortly after we got the first bill, a second arrived through our letter box.

That stated that our bill was £630.24 for the year.

We called the next day to query what was going on.

The water company conceded that this was quite a lot of water. Turns out it was being measured at 15 times more than a six-person household!

For the amount water used, the water company said there was either a fault somewhere its side or a sizeable leak.

It added that someone in our block of flats would have also reported a leak that size by now and that it had actually tried to contact the previous tenant of our flat, to no avail.

Solving the riddle

We arranged to have a technician visit the property to investigate and, in the meantime, started paying £46 per month for the £552 per year bill.

Our water meter is located on the high street, together with the meter of the flat above, and an Italian café.

Upon inspection (we had to turn the taps on and off in the flat several times while the technician observed the meters), it transpired what had happened: we’d been paying our water bill for the café and they’d been paying ours.

The technician took out a marker pen and wrote down the flat numbers on each of the pipes, leaving the café’s free, so that the mistake couldn’t be made again.

Eventually, we got a revised bill for our flat of £225, in nine £25 monthly payments.

And, because we’d already paid £92 and have a goodwill gesture of £50 on our account for the inconvenience, we’re currently £66.67 in credit.

Getting smart

As the technology to record our utilities use gets smarter, would you have the confidence to challenge it if you thought it was wrong?

Of course, the thousands of pounds’ worth of energy that some SSE customers were estimated as using is so clearly an error. But what about if it’s between a few pounds and, say, £30? Would you notice?

Have you ever challenged a utilities bill? What happened?


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Unfortunately we cannot rely on the news media for accurate information. From what I saw, the device showing the inflated bill was not the smart meter, it was the separate In-Home Display. The IHD gets its consumption and price data from the meter, but it does not generate the bill. You can still read the kWh from the meter just as with an analogue one.
“Everybody and the their dog can access “smart ” Internet connected equipment”. As regards smart meters, that is true if you know how to crack the military-grade AES128 encryption system between the meter and the IHD. Smart metering is far more secure than normal smart home systems and usually uses a mobile phone link between the house and the billing company, not the internet.

Duncan helped me find this article about a problem encountered in the Netherlands: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170303180139.htm

There is a technical explanation for serious errors in recording energy use. Essentially, they cannot cope with household products that contain electronics that control power. Everything from a phone charger to a LED light bulb does and I remember first encountering this sort of circuitry in a TV back in 1974. I wonder modern electronic electricity meters and smart meters share the same problem. Please could you ask someone to look into this, Melissa?

Anyone with a good old fashioned electricity meter – the large ones with a horizontal rotating disc – should not be a problem.

I’ve known of meters running backwards when solar panels are connected, I wonder if there’s similar reason for that.

I wonder how much everyone has paid for the smart meter development and roll out and was it money well spent.

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And this expenditure is being recouped across energy bills irrespective of consumers’ circumstances, so pensioners and benefit recipients are paying for the smart meter roll-out alongside those who have been wealthy enough to install solar panels and who get significantly more money back for what they feed-in to the grid than they would pay if they were buying the same number of units through the grid.

William – The meters that ran backwards were the old electromagnetic type, which could not differentiate between whether electricity was being used or fed in. A friend with a large solar installation had to use electricity heating water to prevent his consumption being negative during the summer months. The fact that meters were not changed to modern electronic ones capable of handling use and feed-in illustrates that our energy companies and the regulator were not on the ball.

Edit: I had not seen Duncan’s post about meters running backwards.

Wavechange – I have a friend who put solar panels on all his rental properties, during the holiday he has to use electric heater (during the summer), had the oven on while he’s in the house etc. to avoid a negative reading.

Someone came to replace my friend’s old electricity meter that would run backwards, but that was not until a year or two before his solar panels were installed. I did not know that this was still going on.

Here is an article by Which? about meters running backwards: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/feed-in-tariffs/article/feed-in-tariffs/electricity-meters-running-backwards#sub-heading-2

It could do with updating because it is old and undated. The newer articles are dated.

Your question would you know if you were being overcharged or ripped off, answer yes I would I scrutinise every single bill to check they are correct, Going off the subject slightly I recently received an increased renewal premium fro my home insurers, being unhappy with it I set about searching the market for the same level of cover at a lower cost and yes I found it, saved myself over £25 in premium cost in the process. My motto never accept increased charges or costs at face value.

Derek says:
8 March 2017

Yes, I challenged an overcharge from a faulty electricity meter even used CAB. Result: Man with warrant and battering ram enters removes faulty meter and installs prepay with astronomic debt. Now prove anything sicker.
Oh and even on inflatedisplay prepay rates and huge debt still didn’t spend any where near the monthly amount the faulty meter charged.

We had a call from a company called Energy Assets, working on behalf of British Gas.

They wanted to install a Smart Meter for our gas and had a slot available the following day. As we own a Hotel, I was keen to keep an eye on our usage and thought that having a readable display in our office would help.

So, Energy Assets came out and fitted the new Smart Meter. When I asked about the device for us to monitor our usage, we were told there isnt one – the Smart Meter simply sent British Gas a daily reading.

There was no benefit whatsoever in us having this meter installed; British Gas saves money by not having to send someone to read the meter.

The fitter left – and we encountered the first problem. He had failed to turn our commercial boiler back on and we had major complaints on that Friday night as there was no heating or hot water. We refunded over £1,500 to guests.

We called the number on the meter, and it was disconnected. We attempted to find a commercial gas fitter to come and safely restart the system (which on a Friday night and Saturday was impossible).

We were without heating and hot water on the Saturday night too and had to find alternative accommodation for many guests (at an extra cost to ourselves).

In total, this Smart Meter has cost us over £2,000.

Neither British Gas nor Energy Assets will accept responsibility.

Now, we are getting estimated bills for our gas as there appears to be a fault with the meter. British Gas want Energy Assets to come and and fix it. We have said No.

So, I have an escalated complaint with British Gas and have been waiting nearly a month to get a reply.

I have the forms to put a complaint to Ofgem but the whole process seems too complicated and very lengthy.

My advice would be to check and double check exactly what you are getting if you have a new Smart Meter installed and clarify who is responsible should things go wrong.

It is not over yet. Smart meters will in the next 5 years add a new dimension in ensuring that customers will be bamboozled into a catatonic state such that existing tariffs will look like a young child’s arithmetic.

Much of the problems in supplying electricity is because the peaks and troughs regarding usage results in a massive amount of expensive capital equipment are unused, only being called in as and when required during mornings and early evenings for example. What can be better than giving cheaper tariffs during times when use is low with higher tariffs when use is above average. Not to forget a cheap weekend rates but please read on.

For example, the existing concepts of cheap electricity at night could be expanded such that the cost is low between 06:30 and 07:15 and becomes 60% higher after this until 08:45. The central control hubs only have to issue new software parameters over the network such that electricity costs are subject to diurnal variations, and hey presto a peak tariff could be suddenly introduced in order to ensure customers are ripped off with a peak increase of 200% between 17:30 and 18:15 . What’s more they may only have to give short notice of these changes which will not be understood anyway! One cannot trust governments when MPs are aware that should they depart Parliament there is a post open on the board of an energy supplier.

The energy producers will of course give us saturated advertising telling potential new customers that they are 60% cheaper, and so they are but only for a few hours when your seldom at home.

In the meantime the CEOs and directors will justify yet another fat bonus and share options because they are so world class in ripping off customers while customers are so sluggish to change especially when after changing to a new supplier the tariffs are altered yet again. How easy it will become to produce new daily rip-off rates during the hours when East Enders is likely to be broadcast?

You ain’t seen nothing yet my friends.

It is perfectly true that smart meters will allow tariffs to be based on time of use. I think electricity is sold half-hourly, the price depending upon demand. Encouraging people to avoid peak times and try to shift load off peak, with financial “rewards” is a good thing. But overall profitability will need to be maintained so a price decrease at one tome will have to be balanced by a price increase at another. It is a sophisticated version of the white meter dual tariffs.

Ofgem will regulate how this is done.

It is also likely that certain, perhaps initially the more favourable, tariffs will only be available to consumers who have a smart meter. This would be an attempt to force the uptake of smart meters so that eventually tariffs can be manipulated as John West says.

Ofgem must ensure that any price differentials are in line with grid price movements over the relevant periods. Any scope for unjustified profiteering must be strictly controlled.

A few weeks ago I received an email from E.ON requesting me to make an appointment to arrange the fitting of a SMART METER. The E.ON website was a complete failure in trying to arrange the appointment, so I telephoned the number shown in the email, and spoke to a very helpful member of the E.ON enquiry team. I asked the following question, would the “Smart Meter” affect the operation of my “Heart Pacemaker”, because I have been advised not to use a MOBILE Telephone. The answer that I was provided with by E.ON was that I should not have a “Smart Meter” fitted in my kitchen or anywhere else in my home, until they new it was safe to do so.

It is important to distinguish between smart meters and the display unit provided to show consumption of electricity and gas. It is the meters – which may be outdoors or indoors – that transmit data to the supply company and the display unit in the home. When you use a mobile phone you are holding a transmitter very close to your brain. At one time there were concerns about the safety of mobile phones but these may have been unfounded.

No-one is forced to have smart meters and the companies should point this out.

I am being charged £102 per month for electricity with British Gas on direct debit and have an ongoing complaint which is going nowhere. It’s been going on for 2 years and when my bills increased from £20 to £200+ per month, a check meter was installed and my meter replaced when the engineer confirmed it was faulty. British Gas lost the meter readings then forgot to change the meter on their system now they are saying the meter is correct??!! I can’t change companies because my account is on default yet I’m still paying £102.00 a month I have no idea what to do next.

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Hi thanks for your reply, it’s been horrendous dealing with them, 1 month they say £300 in electric the month after it will be £17!!! They are comparing meter readings for last year I’m fed-up of telling them it was wrong please compare to 2 years ago when it was right!! I’ve looked at my statement from the check meter was taken out my meter reading 21904 and the check meter reading 18638!!! I have phoned ombudsman who are reopening my case!!