British Gas: beware inaccurate energy usage reporting which could make you think you’ve spent less

No-one can have failed to notice the rapidly increasing cost of living particularly on food and energy usage, and it has caused many to keep an even closer eye on what they’re spending so they don’t get into debt.

If you have a smart meter then you would think your life is a little bit easier because you can see on each day (or even each half-hour or in real time) how much gas and electricity you are using, and what it is costing you. No more crawling around in cupboards or scaling ladders to look at meters, sending in readings, and doing your own calculations. It’s all there for you, on a convenient in-home display (IHD) unit, or with online account management tools.

What if you discovered that the IHD and online tools are not always up-to-date, and even if they are, they are not accurately reflecting what you have used or spent?

This is the sad reality for at least some customers of British Gas.

Not only has their online account management tool—which they continue to herald as a boon to budgeting and staying in control—been offline or out of date for weeks at a time (in one incident last year, usage readings were not updated for 45 days) but their systems cannot always cope with tariff changes. Additionally, if the IHD loses connection with the electricity meter, where it is supposed to synchronise data for its display, it can give inaccurate usage and cost readings.

This issue has been raised on countless occasions but these oversights (some might call them downright incompetencies) over many months, and yet nothing seems to be done. It leaves those needing accurate readings having to look carefully at the reported kW/h usage online (when it updates) and calculating their own costs.

The latest saga occurred on 1st February, when a fixed tariff deal came to an end and we were placed on the standard variable rates, with gas and electricity unit prices significantly higher than those on the fixed deal. Yet, when I looked at the IHD, I noticed it was still using the old tariff rates. On 2nd February, it was the same, and logging on to the energy usage page online, it too showed prices using the expired tariff for 1st February.

Yet viewing the tariff information pages showed that we were indeed on the standard variable rate now.

Several fruitless conversations over Facebook private messaging eventually led to a fault being raised and a “wait a week and see if it resolves”. Not particularly satisfactory, but about what I’ve come to expect from British Gas.

Given that the unit costs had risen by between 25 and 41%, anyone not checking things closely would be viewing much lower daily costs, only to be met with a shock when the bill came through (energy companies don’t lose raw usage data! Customers pay eventually).

It emphasises the need to keep your own records of costs, particularly if running a tight budget.

For the record, once you have gained an accurate usage (rather than cost) for a day/week or whatever time period you wish to measure, you need to perform the following calculation to get the real cost (or as close as you can):

(kW/h x unit cost) + (Standing charge x number of days)

Do this for both gas and electricity.

Regardless of where this fuel price crisis ends up, whether consumers are bailed out with money, when or if prices come down, it really should be imperative for utility companies to ensure they are providing accurate cost data to their customers.

The advertising promoting smart meters gushes at how wonderful it is to stay in control and to know how much fuel you’re using and what you’re spending, but if the reports are inaccurate, you may as well go back to old-fashioned meters, estimated bills, fumbling for readings, and monthly or quarterly billing — for all the good it’s doing the consumer.

The mind boggles when it considers who is employed in the IT department at British Gas, because they’ve had years to upgrade and ensure their systems work correctly, and yet there are still problems, downtime, bugs and delays on a weekly basis. It really isn’t good enough, and their customers (many of whom have been transferred to them because of other failing energy companies) deserve so much better.