Understand smart, prepayment and other energy meters

Mae’r dudalen yma ar gael yn Gymraeg.

Energy meters measure the amount of gas and electricity you use. They’re vital to ensuring you are accurately billed.

Gas and electricity meter types aren’t all the same. Here we explain the different types – from standard meters to dial, prepayment meters to digital and smart meters – and how you can read your meter.

How do I read my gas and electricity meters?

Reading your meters often and supplying the readings to your energy supplier is important. It helps ensure your bill only covers the energy you’ve used and isn’t based on an estimate, which could mean you are paying too much or too little. If you choose to switch supplier, you’ll also need to give accurate readings to your new supplier. So it’s helpful to know how to read your meters.

We’ve developed an easy graphic guide on how to read the different kinds of gas and electricity meter on our Energy Shopping website.

See Reading your meters (opens another website)

How do I give my meter readings to my supplier?

You can usually call your supplier or submit your meter readings on their website or via an app if you have your personal details and account number. You can find your supplier’s contact details on your energy bill. If you aren’t sure who your supplier is, see Who is my gas or electricity supplier?

Your meter reads can be automatically sent to your supplier if you have a smart meter. Find out more in ‘smart meters’ below. 

Problems reading my meter

If you have problems reading your meter, contact your energy supplier for help. See Who is my gas or electricity supplier?

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be eligible for extra help from energy services, including support under the Priority Services Register or ‘PSR’.

If you need it, you can also get further help and advice from the Citizens Advice consumer helpline (opens another website).

If you think your energy meter is faulty

Your supplier is responsible for making sure your gas and electricity meters work properly. 

If you think things aren’t working as they should - for example if your bill is unusually high or you see an error message  - contact your supplier straight away. 

If you’re a tenant and your landlord pays the energy bills, your landlord is responsible for contacting the energy supplier.

See the Citizens Advice website for a short guide on checking if your meter is faulty (opens another website).

Types of gas and electricity meter

Smart meters

Smart meters show you how much energy you are using in pounds and pence, in near real time, through an in-home digital display. They send your energy reads direct to your supplier, so will mean the end of estimated bills or the need to take manual readings.

The government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland by 2020. Most suppliers will start offering smart meters from Autumn 2016, your supplier will contact you to tell you when you can get one. Smart meters aren’t compulsory and you can choose not to have one.

Your energy use plays a big part in the price you pay for your energy, and the in-home displays that come with smart meters can help you track what you use and understand where you might be able to make reductions that could save you money.

If you have a smart meter, you should still shop around to ensure you’re on the best energy deal and tariffs for you. Find tips on the Citizens Advice energy shopping website (opens another website).

While most suppliers are offering smart meters from Autumn 2016, some have voluntarily offered to install them earlier to help test the new technology, or offer similar products known as 'advanced meters'. For these meters, the early technology may mean you need to upgrade to a different smart meter or lose certain advanced features later on or if you choose to switch supplier. Find out more in Smart meters: Your rights.

You can find out more about the smart meter roll out and get detailed installation advice on the Smart Energy GB website (opens another website)

The Citizens Advice consumer helpline can offer you further help and advice on installation issues or concerns if you need it.

You can find out more about Ofgem’s work in the roll out at Transition to smart meters.

Prepayment meters (sometimes known as ‘token’ or ‘key-card meters’)

A prepayment meter lets you pay upfront for your gas or electricity use, or both. You can top up a prepayment meter using an app on your phone, by text or through a token or key card at a shop. How much you credit your account is up to you.

Usually the tariffs available for prepayment meters are more expensive, so you should carefully consider your options before having a prepayment meter installed or if you move into a property with one already installed.

Prepay price cap (or ‘safeguard tariff’)

Ofgem has stepped in to help protect prepay consumers by introducing a safeguard tariff. The tariff is in place from 1 April and gives peace of mind that the price you pay reflects the underlying costs of supplying your energy. For many prepay customers, this could mean you can expect to pay around £80 less a year on your energy bill (based on typical household energy use with a larger supplier). Find out more in our explainer video below.

Prepayment meters and debt

Sometimes if you are struggling to pay your energy bill and get into debt with your supplier or if you have not stuck to an agreed payment plan, your supplier may ask to put you on a prepayment meter.

A supplier can also install a prepayment meter under a warrant to recover a debt, to resolve situations where a customer can’t or won’t engage with them to agree a resolution. Suppliers can only do this as a last resort. Under current rules, suppliers can charge these warrant costs back to you. The charges, which can include court costs, can range between £200 to £900.

Ofgem is working to deliver changes to protect consumers from experiencing more debt or hardship due to these warrant installations. We’re consulting on plans to place a firm cap at £100 or £150 on warrant charges for all energy customers. We’re also proposing to ban warrant charges altogether, and in some cases installations, for the most vulnerable customers. This includes people in financial hardship, and people with physical and mental health issues and learning difficulties.

The prepay price and warrant caps will be an interim measure until 2020, the date by which the government wants suppliers to have rolled out smart meters to every home in England, Scotland and Wales.

Further information and support

Economy 7 and Economy 10 (or ‘heatwise’) meters

Economy 7 and Economy 10 (or ‘heatwise’) meters are used for ‘Economy 7’ or ‘Economy 10’ tariffs, where you get a cheaper rate for your usage for either 7 or 10 hours of the day.

Economy 7 meters track your usage separately depending on if it’s daytime or night-time. The rate you pay is usually cheaper at night than during the day.  

Economy 10 is similar, but you get three of your cheaper hours in the afternoon on top of the seven you get at night.

Some of these meters will display one set of numbers (showing the day rate) and you press a button to show the night rate, and some will show two sets of numbers.

If you want to switch to or from Economy 7 or Economy 10, you may have to have a new meter installed. Contact your supplier for further advice. The Citizens Advice energy shopping guide also provides essential information to help you know how to shop for the best tariff for you: Energy tariffs and deals (opens another website).

The Citizens Advice consumer helpline can offer you further help and advice on installation issues or concerns if you need it.

Standard meters (or ‘mechanical meters’)

Standard meters use a mechanical display to show your readings. Your usage is measured based on the number of revolutions the dial on the meter makes. It’s the most common type of meter.

See the Citizens Advice energy shopping website for a graphic guide and tips on Reading your meters (opens another website)

Dial meters (or 'analogue meters')

Dial meters look like clocks and usually have six dials. You take your meter reading from the first five dials based on where the dial hand is pointed. Ignore the sixth final red dial if it is at the end, or any dials without figures. Dial meters can be more complex to read as the dials next to each other move in opposite directions and you may need to adjust the reading depending on where the dial hands are pointed.

See the Citizens Advice energy shopping website for a graphic guide and tips on Reading your meters (opens another website)

Digital meters

Digital meters show your reading in a straightforward digital display. You may need to press a button to show the reading.

See the Citizens Advice energy shopping website for a graphic guide and tips on Reading your meters (opens another website)

If you’re not sure what type of gas or electricity meter you have, contact your energy supplier for advice. You can find their contact details on your bill, or see Who is my gas or electricity supplier?

Can I move my gas or electricity meter?

If your gas or electricity meters are in a position where it is difficult for you to take meter readings, or you’re doing building work, you could be eligible to have your meter moved. Usually this is free, but it could come with a cost depending on the requirement and your circumstances. If it's difficult to access your meter or take readings and you're on the Priority Services Register or ‘PSR’, your supplier should move the meter for free. 

It’s illegal to move an energy meter yourself.

Contact your supplier for further details. See Who is my gas or electricity supplier?

You can find further advice in the Citizens Advice guide: Move your gas or electricity meter (opens another website).

Get help and advice

If you need help, advice or further assistance:

More guides on energy meters

Publications and updates

  • Published: 30th Apr 2013
  • Factsheets
  • 1 Associated documents
This factsheet explains flexible energy use, how demand-side response works and how being flexible with how and when you consume electricity could save you money.