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Estimated vs actual meter readings: What's the difference for your energy bill?

Utility meter

A lot of people tend to receive their energy bill, pay it and wait for the next one to roll around without putting too much thought into what they’ve just received. While this may be perfectly fine for some people, it may see others paying for more energy than they’ve used while driving up the price of your energy bill.

With a shift towards smart meters, there’s now three ways in which your energy provider can get a gauge on what your usage is.

A quick look at your energy bill should tell you whether your meter has been read via an actual reading or an estimated reading, as well as what that reading is. You can always check it against what your meter is currently displaying should you have safe access to your energy meter - although keep in mind it will have moved since the date the reading on your energy bill was taken.

We’ve broken down the difference between the different meter readings below, so you know how you’re being charged on your energy bill.

Actual meter reading

If your bill notes an actual meter reading has taken place (or doesn’t note that it was an estimated reading), this means someone has been out to your property and taken a physical reading of your meter.

These usually take place every 90-91 days in accordance with your energy bill (with a few days leeway for the reading), and allow your provider to read the difference between your meter from your latest payment date to now. As your meter rises while your home uses energy, your provider will know how much energy you have used and you’ll be charged the corresponding amount on your bill.

If you’re ever questioning the accuracy of a meter reading, you can check the meter yourself and get in touch with your provider should there be any discrepancies. Just keep in mind you will have used energy between the date of the reading on your energy bill and the day you check it for yourself.

Smart meter reading

A smart meter takes any human error out of the equation by sending readings directly to your provider. If you can access your energy account online, you should also be able to view real-time data of your energy usage which can help you prep for your bill.

A smart meter won’t make your bill any more expensive or cheaper just by owning it, but having access to your data in real-time can help you understand your energy usage, allowing you to cut costs by reducing usage at certain hours or of certain devices.

Smart meters also allow you access to flexible pricing plans if your provider offers them. A flexible pricing plan or time of use tariff means your energy usage is charged at different amounts for peak and non-peak usage, instead of the one flat rate that most energy bills consist of.

As your smart reader sends information to your provider electronically, you won’t have to worry about an inaccurate reading being taken or being given an estimated reading due to a lack of access.

Estimated meter reading

If you notice your energy bill states that you’ve had an estimated meter reading, it means your energy provider has charged you based on an estimated amount rather than an actual meter reading.

This can occur when the meter reader was unable to access your meter, or have failed to provide the reading to your energy provider.

The next time your meter is able to be physically read, generally at your next scheduled billing cycle, your energy company should adjust your payments to ensure you’ve only paid for the energy you’ve used. This may mean providing a credit on your bill if you’ve been overcharged or increasing the cost of your current bill.

If the meter reader is still unable to access your meter at the end of the next billing period, you may be given an estimated reading again or your provider might get in touch with you.

How to ensure your meter reading won’t be estimated

While the costs should be remedied between bills, you don’t want to be stuck paying more upfront for an estimated reading if your actual reading will be lower.

To ensure you receive an accurate meter reading and are only paying for the energy you’ve used, you need to ensure your meter is safe and easy to access for your meter reader.

You can test this by accessing the meter yourself, clearing any obstruction that may stop your reader from getting a proper reading of your meter.

If you’ve received an estimated reading but you’re confident a reader could’ve had access to your meter, get in touch with your energy provider to see what has happened. There may have been issues getting a reader out to your property, in which case you may be able to provide photographic evidence of your meter reading. Otherwise, you may just have to wait for your next billing period for your usage to be accurately measured.

Looking for an energy plan? Head over to our energy hub to compare plans and providers in your area, or make use of our handy comparison tool below.

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Cooper Langby
Cooper Langby
Money writer

Cooper writes across all aspects of personal finance here at Mozo. With a double degree in Journalism and Communications & Media from the University of Wollongong, Cooper has previously written sports content for the Fansided network. He is now turning his focus to finances and is always looking for new ways to educate himself and our readers on the best ways to save money, and budget effectively.