Electric meters for landlords: a guide to the different types

If the electric meter at your rental property needs replacing, or you want to understand more about the different types available, our simple guide is a good place to start.

Who’s responsible for the electricity supply to your rental property?

UK Power Networks owns the electricity supply and the cabling that carries it into your rental property. The energy company that bills you or your tenant for that electricity owns the electric meter. And you, as the property owner, own the fuse box with the trip switches inside your property.

So, if your rental property needs a new electric meter, give your energy supplier a call to find out your options. In the meantime, here’s a quick guide to the different types in current use.

Smart meters

During 2018 over 12.8 million smart and advanced meters were working in smart mode across Great Britain, with over a million being installed every quarter. That’s according to the government’s Smart Meter Progress Report 2018.

The idea behind smart meters is that the customer only pays for the electricity they actually use, without the need for manual meter readings, because the meter communicates directly with the energy provider.

Standard, variable and prepayment options are available if you choose to install a smart meter at your rental property. Read on for the different features of these three types.

Standard meters

Before the government’s big push to install smart meters in homes and small businesses across the country, standard electric meters that require manual readings were the most commonly installed piece of equipment to measure electrical power usage.

The plan is to make sure everyone is offered a smart meter by the end of 2020, but some people are opting not to have one installed. Reasons for refusal range from a risk of being hacked, to it not working in areas with poor internet signal, to health risks.

Whether you choose the smart version or the regular version, standard meters are generally easy to read, showing your electric usage in kilowatt hours (kWh). You simply note the numbers from left to right, ignoring any after the decimal point.

Dial meters

Dial meters are made up of a series of small ‘clock faces’. You read the numbers on each clock from left to right, and if a needle is between two numbers, you read the lower number. There’s no need to note any numbers shown in red.

Digital meters

Digital meters show the reading on an LCD display. If you can’t see the number, you may need to press a button to display it.

Economy 7 and Economy 10 meters

Also known as variable rate meters, Economy 7 and Economy 10 meters are designed for customers who use most of their electricity at off-peak times, such as overnight.

  • Economy 7 gives your tenants cheaper electricity during seven specified nighttime hours.
  • Economy 10 gives your tenants cheaper electricity during three separate chunks of the day, which add up to 10 hours.

This means, unless you have the smart meter version, your tenants will need to give the energy company two separate numbers when giving their electric meter readING – one for the cheaper off-peak tariff and one for the regular tariff.

In a rented property, this type of meter may not be the best option, particularly if the property is shared by multiple tenants who all have different daily schedules.

Prepaid electricity meters

A prepayment meter could be seen as a good option for landlords because it requires tenants to pay for their electricity in advance. Payment in advance removes the risk of a tenant running up a big bill and moving out with the bill unpaid.

The Residential Landlords Association has some top tips on electricity payment liability:

  • if your rental property is currently empty, you’re responsible for any bills or charges
  • if you have a tenant in the property, you need to make sure the tenancy agreement is clear on who’s responsible for bill payments. This might mean requiring tenants to change the name on the bills, or getting tenants to pay you directly for their energy bills
  • make sure your tenants notify the energy provider of the meter reading when they move in – and when they move out. New tenants are not responsible for any charges or arrears accrued by previous tenants
  • the named person or people on the bill are responsible for the full bill amount

Some prepayment electricity meters allow customers to top up using an app while others may require topping up with a card or a key.

The digital display on the prepaid electric meter shows the tenant how much electricity they still have to use. If the energy company needs a reading, there will be a button to press to show how much electricity has been used.

The downsides of prepayment meters are that they can make power more expensive and when they run out of credit, they shut off the electricity supply. The idea of having to run out to the local shop to top up a card or key on a dark and cold night may put some tenants off renting your property.

What’s the right type of electric meter for your rental property?

Choosing an electric meter for your rental property is a different decision to choosing one for your home – it depends whether your tenants pay you a set figure each month for rent and bills or the energy provider directly for their electricity.

There are pros and cons to all the different types of meter – smart or regular? Standard, variable or prepayment? It’s worth weighing them up next time the electricity meter in your rental property needs replacing.

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