The ultimate guide to gas meters

Last updated: 28 January 2021

In this guide you’ll get answers to the following questions:

  • Why do I need to take a gas meter reading?

  • How do I take a gas meter reading?

  • What types of gas meters are there?

  • How do I submit my gas meter readings?

  • Understanding your gas meter bill

  • How can I tell if my gas meter is faulty?

Why do I need to know about my gas meter?

Energy suppliers estimate gas consumption over time, looking at your household habits to calculate a bill. However, your gas meter gives the most accurate insight into your day-to-day use. 

It’s a good idea to learn a little bit more about how the gas meter works, as well as how to record and submit current readings, especially if you're on a gas-only tariff. Here’s everything you need to know about gas meter readings, whether you have a digital, dial or standard model. 

Why do I need to take a gas meter reading?

Your gas meter provides an up-to-date record of your household’s gas consumption. If this information isn’t given to your supplier, your gas bill is based on estimated usage. By taking and submitting regular gas meter readings to your supplier – at least once a quarter, you’ll avoid underpaying or overpaying for your energy usage. 

While low estimates might save you money in the short term, you’ll be accruing an energy debt that will need to be paid back sooner or later. Alternatively, you may have taken strides towards saving energy in your home, but estimated bills will be based on your previous consumption and you may end up continuing to pay more for your energy. 

Another benefit of taking regular gas meter readings is that you’ll become aware of any unusual trends in your energy use (other than the usual fluctuation between the warmer summer months and colder winter ones), which may indicate a fault with your meter (see below).

Getting an accurate picture of your energy usage also makes it easier to get a better rate when you switch suppliers, since you’ll be able to provide up-to-date and accurate data when comparing deals. The exception is if you have a smart meter, which automatically submits gas smart meter readings on your behalf.

How do I take a gas reading?

There are several types of gas meter on the market, all of which vary slightly in their basic design. However, a set of numbers will be clearly displayed no matter the type. Unless the meter is a smart one, you’ll need to write down the numbers – whether dials, standard numbers or digital – along with the date and time they were taken, then submit this information to your energy supplier. You may also be given the option of taking a photo of your meter reading using your smartphone, then upload it via email or mobile app. 

Gas meters also display a unique identification number called a Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN), which you’ll need for other purposes, such as when setting up gas and electricity after moving home

While the process is broadly similar across all suppliers, it still pays to check with your supplier to find out the easiest way to record and submit gas readings using its systems. 

What types of gas meters are there?

Although their main function might be the same, there are a few gas meter types to be aware of. These differ in terms of how they display your gas consumption. 

Standard meter

The most common type of meter features a straightforward mechanical display. You’ll see the numbers clearly displayed on the front. To take a reading, write down the five black numbers ordered from left to right. There might be red numbers listed as well, but these aren’t relevant and can be safely ignored. 

Digital meter

Standard meter types might use a digital rather than a mechanical display. As with the standard mechanical version, you’ll need to record the first five figures ordered from left to right. Ignore any numbers after the decimal point (or indeed any numbers that start with 0.1). Some models allow you to press a display button to show the most current reading.

Dial meter

Dial meters are a little bit trickier to read with their clock-like interface. To take a dial gas meter reading, you’ll need to read the dial numbers from left to right. However, you’ll need to ignore any red dials, dials without figures, or dials without hands. Sometimes the needle will appear between two figures, in which case you should write down the lower number. You’ll need to adjust your reading for accuracy after you’ve written down the numbers. With dial meters, it might be easier to take a photo and submit it to your energy supplier for it to read and interpret. 

Prepayment meters

Prepayment gas meters come in various designs with digital or standard displays, but they differ from these meters in that you must pay for your gas in advance. To use this type of meter, you’ll need to top up a smartcard, key fob, or token with credit in a participating store or Post Office. The charging device is then inserted into the front of the meter. Another option is to use a smartphone app or top up your gas credit online – the best method will depend on your supplier.

To take a gas meter reading from a prepayment meter, you’ll need to look at the display window. This is usually located on the front of the meter, showing you the units of energy consumed, the rate per unit of fuel, the amount of credit inserted, and any outstanding debt (if applicable). There may also be access to emergency credit to prevent you from running out of gas overnight. It’s particularly important to take your meter reading if you’ve just moved into a new house with a prepayment meter installed – otherwise, you may be held liable for a previous tenant’s debt. 

Smart meters

The government is in the process of rolling out smart meters across the nation, offering households an easier way to measure gas and electricity readings. Unlike traditional meters, these connect to your supplier directly to automatically submit regular gas smart meter readings on your behalf. If you’re eligible to have a smart meter installed, your energy company will contact you. In the meantime, you can contact your supplier to find out when this technology will be available in your area. Smart gas meters are designed with electronic displays, showing you the real-time units of energy consumed and your rate per unit of fuel. 

How do I submit my gas meter reading?

Once you’ve recorded your meter reading according to your type of meter (see above), there are several things you can do with it. The first is to check your most recent bill. Compare the estimated reading to your actual reading – if you’ve been overpaying, you’re entitled to a refund from your energy supplier. On the other hand, if you’ve been underpaying it’s a good idea to contact your supplier to increase your monthly payments to spread the cost of covering the debt you’ve built up. For smaller amounts, it may be a good idea to pay off the excess in one go, before searching for a better rate or adjusting your Direct Debit payments.

Another reason you might need your current gas meter reading is when you switch supplier. You’ll need to submit this to both the old and new suppliers to receive an accurate final bill, so you can pay off any debts (or receive a credit you can claim back).

There are several ways to submit the reading. Some suppliers will have dedicated websites or apps to enter your numbers, while others will provide a phone line for this purpose. You should be able to find this information by logging into your online account or checking a recent bill. 

Understanding your gas meter bill

So how does your gas meter work, anyway? Here are some facts about how gas is measured, as well as how it impacts your bill.

  • Calorific value changes by location

Gas is measured with calculations called the calorific value (CV), which simply means heating value. What many people don’t know is that this isn’t a fixed rate. CV calculations will change from day to day and can fluctuate depending on what part of the country you live in. As a result, the UK is divided into 13 different local distribution zones, with your bill based on your particular zone’s daily CV during the latest billing period. 

  • Temperature impacts your gas bill

Gas expands with heat, meaning readings will be different depending on the temperature. Energy suppliers use a basic temperature of 15°C, but if your meter is located outdoors, you’ll have marginally lower bills due to the lower temperatures. 

  • You’ll get more gas for your money at sea level. 

Pressure is another natural force that changes the volume of gas, which means properties placed at lower altitudes tend to get more for their money. For billing purposes, gas companies use an average height of 67.5m above sea level.  

How can I tell if my gas meter is faulty?

It’s not uncommon for your latest gas reading to be slightly more or less than your estimated amounts, but what should you do if there are wider fluctuations? If the meter reading seems wrong, you might need to contact your supplier to send an engineer out to take a closer look at your gas meter. Under UK law, gas meters must report within a 2% accuracy rate. If the supplier sends someone out to test your meter and finds it to be faulty, it can be fixed or replaced. Meters can be sent away to an independent laboratory or tested at your home, depending on the case. Keep in mind that although the testing is free, some suppliers will charge for the cost of replacement. 

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Published on Wed 23 Oct 2019 03.30 GMT