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Cost of Living

Gas customers advised to submit meter readings as one woman overcharged by thousands

The nature of the problem didn’t become apparent until she decided to conduct her own evaluation.

CUSTOMERS ARE BEING advised to check their gas consumption and submit their own readings after one woman was overcharged by around €‎2,000 due to a faulty meter.

Róisín – who did not want her full name published – got a gas bill in February that showed a huge increase in the amount she had to pay compared to the same time last year. At first, she and her partner weren’t overly surprised because of the massive increase in energy prices stemming from the war in Ukraine.

“So we got quite a large bill in mid February. It was over €1,100. At the time we just thought, ‘Look that’s the increases.’,” Róisín told The Journal

After checking with people she new, Róisín realised that the amount was still “quite high”.

The nature of the problem didn’t become apparent until she decided to conduct her own evaluation.

“I wasn’t that aware of it until I think probably a month later, when I decided to do an estimate. So after around four weeks, the estimate was at €‎1,700. So we were like, that’s insane because we were conscious not to use the gas.”

Róisín’s household uses gas for both cooking and heating and the estimate came as a bit of a shock, leading her to suspect the boiler may have been the source of the issue. 

“We kind of both went into a bit of a tailspin and we thought maybe it’s the boiler because it’s quite an old house – it was built in the 1970s and it hasn’t really been upgraded. 

“We got the boiler serviced. That was fine. Then I was kind of doing estimates every day. We were going up at one point… I think it was 100 quid a day.”

The true source of the mounting gas units only came to light after Róisín took it upon herself to check the meter while no gas was in use inside. 

“By chance, I decided to just check the meter. And all I did was just took a photograph of the units, didn’t use anything and checked an hour later. So the units were accruing maybe five units an hour by itself with nothing in use, so we knew then that it was actually the meter itself.”

Róisín then called Gas Networks Ireland, who sent someone out to test the meter for a fee. 

“They said yeah, they can come out and they can replace an old meter for free. But to get an actual test, which you need to have done to get reimbursed, that cost I think it was around €380 or €390.”

Gas Networks Ireland later confirmed that it was, in fact, a faulty meter accruing units on its own that was leading to the inflated bills she had been getting.

“So what Energia did, who are our suppliers, they credited that onto our account, so at this stage we were, I didn’t know, minus €‎2,000. It was just a ridiculous amount.

“And we had to get them to basically put a hold on our account, which meant that we cancelled our direct debit and that we weren’t going to pay any of that off until we got it resolved.”

Gas Networks Ireland has yet to come back to Róisín with the exact amount she is owed. 

“It’s going to take them a few weeks to figure out exactly how much we’re owed,” said Róisín. 

Róisín says she contacted The Journal because she doesn’t want others to find themselves overpaying for gas, especially with the cost of living so high at the moment. 

“I just kind of wanted to highlight it in case there was anyone else in this situation,” she said.

She said she would hate to think of someone, “especially someone on a very fixed income”, getting thousands of euro added onto their bill without realising why.

Gas Networks Ireland told The Journal that while they do find cases of faulty meters, the number of customers who are overcharged is “very low”, with 70 meters reported as faulty this year.

“Given that there are over 300,000 digital gas meters on the network, the number of cases where a faulty gas meter leads to a customer being overcharged is very low. This year to date, we estimate that number to be well below 1% (approximately 70 meters in total),” a spokesperson said.

“When we proactively detect a flag on a meter display during our routine gas meter read cycles or on the occasion when they are brought to our attention by a customer, we bring them in for diagnostic tests to determine the source of the issue.

“When we establish that it is an incrementing problem and a customer has been overcharged because of a faulty meter, we assess when it may have occurred and apply an estimated usage to develop an amended read for the appropriate supplier to bill out or ensure the customer is credited the appropriate amount.

“If a gas customer has a concern about their bills, we encourage them to speak to their supplier in the first instance.”

According to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), the consumer protection organisation with a specific focus on utilities, customers should submit their own meter readings to ensure they are accurately charged. 

“I think one important message to all customers in relation to this is to submit regular monthly meter readings to either their supplier, or the system operators Gas Networks Ireland (Gas) or ESBN Networks (Electricity),” a spokesperson told The Journal.

“Estimated bills, or a series of estimated reads, can lead to larger catchup bills that can only be rectified once a customer submits a meter read or an actual read takes place by the network operator.”

When it comes to suspected faults with meters, the CRU advises customers to review their usage regularly through meter readings. 

“This will allow them to identify an issue if they suspect their usage has significantly fluctuated out of their usual patterns or if their bills have increased significantly.”

The CRU also said that faulty meters were not a common complaint the commission receives. 

“There are intermittent cases of faulty meters providing incorrect reads for gas customers, but the CRU has not seen any significant rise in complaints in relation to this.”

If customers have issues with the response to a billing issue from their supplier of Gas Networks Ireland, they are encouraged to make a complaint. If that doesn’t satisfy them, the CRU can take up the case.

A CRU statement added that “customers will not be disconnected once they are engaging with their supplier in relation to any billing issues”.

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