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Millions of households face energy bill shock by not reading meters during lockdown

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Millions of UK households face unexpected energy bill hikes as months of increased power use during lockdown is belatedly added to bills.

Comparison site Uswitch says around 14 million households are heading for a £288m energy bill shock because lockdown has prevented meter readers from visiting properties so current bills don’t accurately reflect increased household power use.

Bills are estimated to have risen by £16 a month as we spend more time at home.

According to Uswitch figures, more than two million households with traditional meters — nearly a fifth of bill payers (19%) — never take their own meter readings and rely on their provider visiting their property.

With meter readers prevented from visiting homes for the last three months, it could be more than six months before these households see their bill change, meaning direct debits rising by as much as £25 a month in September.

Uswitch says vulnerable households will be hit hardest with a fifth (21%) of those who rely on meter readers being over pensionable age or having a disability or a long-term medical condition.

Meanwhile, more than 11 million households who submit their own meter readings have not done so for an average of two months and six days.

This means they last submitted readings before the UK went into lockdown and their bills do not currently reflect how much their energy use has risen as a result of spending more time at home.

The delay means these customers could face a £20 rise in their bills when their extra energy use is eventually added to their direct debits.

Many struggle to read their energy meters, with almost one in ten (7%) adults saying they don’t even know where their meter is.

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch, said: “Checking your meter takes a matter of minutes once you know where it’s located and which numbers to report on.

“If you can give your supplier an accurate reading, they reward you with an accurate bill — rather than give you a nasty surprise later on.”

In separate news, four of the ‘big six’ energy suppliers have resumed smart meter installations after they were temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

E.on, Npower, British Gas and SSE have all started installing smart meters again while following social distancing rules.

Smart meters are meant to save people money on their gas and electricity bills by providing suppliers with accurate meter readings, bringing an end to estimates.

The government had originally committed to smart meters being offered to every home and small business by the end of 2020. But last summer the deadline was pushed back to 2024 and an installation target of 85% was given.

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