Taking an accurate meter reading can be the bane of every inventory professional’s working life. Even the most skilled inventory clerks can struggle to locate the physical meter unit. Then once they have, they’ll often encounter a wave of different formats and obstacles to overcome before a precise reading can be confidently recorded. This can lead inventory providers to concentrate their efforts elsewhere.
Yet, the current cost of living crisis shows no signs of improving in the next twelve months. This, coupled with record-high utility prices means that the recording of meter readings is crucial in helping to provide accurate fuel bills to renters and landlords, so this vital task shouldn’t be overlooked.
Always here to support your property management responsibilities, discover our top tips on how to capture accurate meter readings, based on advice from leading utilities providers and more.
Why are Energy Costs so High?
There is a heady mix of factors contributing towards the current sky-high energy costs experienced by both tenants and landlords. In a previous article Tenant Fuel Bills – The Importance of Energy Meter Readings, we noted the rise in global demand for gas as the world’s economies recover from the pandemic alongside the depletion of reserves caused by last year’s exceptionally severe winter.
The first factor, increasing demand, has caused wholesale gas prices to rise an eye-watering 250%. Combined with adverse weather, this has not lowered the UK’s 85% dependence on gas-powered electricity. People still need to heat their homes.
Naturally, people on both sides of the private rented sector have been alarmed at the rate of this increase in cost. The income generated by tenants’ rents is there to support the private landlord’s mortgage, with the latter party equally worried about the cost of heating/powering their own home as well as receiving their tenant’s monthly rental payments.
Faced with the consequences of a raised energy price cap, which increased 53% in April 2022, many well-meaning tenants are switching to a smart meter to ease the impact of higher energy tariffs on their income. However, there’s reason to be cautious. Promoted as a convenient way to submit a meter reading, they’re by no means foolproof and do not save money in and of themselves. Instead, they simply display how much energy is being consumed at any one time.
That’s why manually collected meter readings still have an important role to play in property management today.
Taking accurate meter readings contributes towards a well-managed property. It records how many units of utilities the last resident(s) of a home or apartment consumed.
There are three types of readings to measure:
- Electricity meter reading
- Gas meter reading
- Water meter reading
Taking multiple accurate meter readings may seem time intensive when you factor in locating the units. But it’s a worthwhile task as it avoids confusion, disputes and unexpected costs once a tenant moves out. Meter readings protect both the landlord and the incoming tenant(s) from potential costs incurred by the previous tenant.
Similarly, up-to-date meter readings taken in between tenancies, tell everybody involved what these readings are on that specific date. It means the new tenant can track their energy use and not be liable for previous tenants’ bills. Failure to do so means the tenant “can quickly become in debt, as the energy provider estimates [their] usage based on previous tenants” and the landlord may not be too happy to receive a bill addressed to them.
However, accurate meter readings state a baseline for the future tenant(s). It’s then their responsibility to pay for their usage (after the inventory) and not that of the landlord.
Some energy companies encourage monthly meter readings to be submitted. This can be either instead of or alongside an automated smart meter reading when, for example, the property has a combination of these and traditional non-smart meters. Incidentally, a landlord cannot prevent their tenants from having a smart meter fitted.
Action is also required at the end of a tenancy. Home Let advises outgoing tenants to “contact the energy company immediately to notify them” and “make sure to leave an address to which they can send outstanding bills”. This avoids difficulties for the landlord in recovering outstanding debts.
Smart meters have been promoted as a way of confirming what the property’s gas, water and electric meter readings were at the time of transition. But, this practice should be continued at regular intervals by the tenant(s) after the move-in date to protect the credit they’ll build up each month, following the alarming collapse of several energy suppliers.
Generally speaking, a smart meter will submit a reading every 30 minutes for a more up-to-date picture and precise bill. However, few would argue that reading a smart meter or traditional meter is a straightforward activity.
How to conduct an accurate meter reading
Every inventory clerk needs to know how to take a meter reading to better serve their client (the landlord). But taking an accurate meter reading can be easier in theory than in practice.
Thankfully, many of the leading utilities companies now issue advice to tenants on their websites. These resources are valuable to those compiling property inventories between tenancies.
You can access some of their guides below:
- SSE: Meter reading instructions
- EDF: How to submit a meter reading
- British Gas: Submitting a meter reading
- EON Next meter reading
The consumer watchdog Which? has also issued advice describing the different categories of electricity and gas meter models found in the UK, including prepayment and variable-rate economy 7 and 10 electricity meters. Their guide on how to read your gas and electricity meters offers an overview of how to complete accurate meter readings from other providers, such as recording a Utility Warehouse meter reading.
Inventory professionals may also encounter interchangeable meters when inspecting a property. For example, OVO Energy has allowed those signed up to their utilities group to switch remotely between pay-as-you-go and credit models. This helps them to monitor their energy use and prevent getting in debt. Taking a ‘Secure Liberty 100’ meter reading is complicated given the various displays to navigate, but it’s explained in more detail here.
The above EON meter reading guide also specifies how to take dial (clock-like), digital, mechanical and smart meter readings.
Taking the time to discover how to read each specific type of meter (including both metric and imperial) may feel like a huge endeavour, but it will ultimately result in more satisfied clients across the property management industry. This can only raise your reputation and that of inventory professionals generally.
Meter reading advice from the utilities companies
On top of the advice already seen, it’s worth noting that energy providers have issued further tips to help their customers and inventory professionals achieve more accurate meter readings. Much of their advice focuses on smart meters, which represent “over 40% of all domestic and small business meters.
The British Gas website clearly states that whilst some smart meter customers believe they don’t have to send meter readings, some first-generation smart meters are not compatible with all energy suppliers, so they can’t send reads. This once again highlights the importance of inventories compiled by property and inventory professionals.
Likewise, EDF allows customers to adjust the frequency of sending a reading to every 30 minutes. Rather than do this manually, smart meters are said to give the most accurate picture of energy use.
Whilst this may appear irrelevant to those creating an inventory, the information they generate is valuable for tenants, too, helping them monitor their energy use and save landlords from the headache of dealing with inaccurate bills after the tenancy has ended. An EDF meter reading is a flexible example of more frequent information producing an increasingly accurate report.
Finally, remember to always photograph the meter reading, including the unit’s serial number, for your records and added peace of mind.
Accurate meter readings are an essential part of completing any property inventory
The advice in this article is there to make the job of any property management company or inventory clerk easier. Reflecting our ethos of simplifying the process of letting out properties, the Inventory Base property inventory software has a designated space to log accurate meter readings once they’ve been taken, along with any supplementary evidence like photos.
In a time of great uncertainty across the property sector, you can depend on Inventory Base to support landlords whilst ensuring that everyone avoids disputes and unexpected energy bills.
Book a demo today to see how Inventory Base can help!