back to article Gas bill climbed £13,000 after correct online reading given

Reg Reader and Stockport dweller Rob was shocked to find that trying to save his mother a few pounds on her gas bill ended up pushing the tab up £13,088.43, rather than down the 20 quid he was expecting. It was the unlikely result of entering a meter reading on Southern Electric's website. Utility companies have a patchy …


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  1. SuperTim

    Not just software stupidity.

    last year an accuread man took a meter reading from my meter (i had to fill in a card because I was apparently "out" when he came round, despite me hearing the card come through and my car being on the drive, and him having to walk past the gas meter). I filled the card with the correct readings, and the meter reader then duly entered completely different ones on his little device when he could be bothered to actually turn up and read my little card. I got a £3000 bill, and it then took several calls to e.on before one of them looked at the numbers and suggested that it was a little "unusual" to use that much energy in a month. I noted they were very keen to get a correct reading this time around though (entirely coincidentally my bills will be going up by 15% or so, so they will be sure that any overestimate was nullified before the rise).

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To be fair...

    I've always found Southern Electric to be a dream to deal with. Far, far better than those ars*h*les at British Gas.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > Far, far better than those ars*h*les at British Gas.

      Retard brigade down at British Gas high command decided to merge my previously separate electricity and gas accounts. Their website now requires I enter *both* meter readings or it fails with a validation error.

      My electricity meter is in the house, my gas meter is is in an inaccessible locked box outside.


    2. Florence

      That would be the same British Gas who managed to switch MY supply after my neighbour gave them the wrong flat number... cue shock billing with my existing provider who based my final bill on an estimate.

      1. Ed


        And the same British Gas that managed to take over £400 in advanced direct debit in 3 months and saying I had to wait 8 months before they'd adjust how much money they were taking each month. That could easily have meant that they had over £1000 of my money. Hardly worth it for saving the 5% or whatever it was for using Direct Debit.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ... who said it must only be an online account, then deleted my account and said I was going to a more expensive tariff. They said I hadn't used the account so it had timed out -- even though I'd put my meter readings in the month before.

      Or maybe it was because I didn't use one of their many domains that they use (,,,, ...). I can't remember now which of these I should keep using lest I'm deemed not to be an Internet (note the capital) user.


  3. David Harper 1

    It's not just Southern Electric

    It's not only Southern Electric whose web-based meter reading system can't cope with actual readings that are lower than the company's estimated reading.

    A couple of months ago, I tried to enter my own gas meter reading into Scottish Power's web site. It was 20 units lower than the estimated reading on the bill I'd just received, and Scottish Power were proposing to raise my monthly payment by a hefty amount based on their estimate, so I was keen that they should get the true reading.

    Their web site refused to accept my reading. It told me twice that I'd made a mistake, and on the third attempt, it told me to expect a call from their customer service department.

    After waiting for several days, I called Scottish Power myself, and a friendly customer service person was happy to enter the correct reading. I suppose I should be glad that they didn't try to bill me for 10,000 non-existent units of gas!

    1. Robert Harrison

      I had a similar story with Scottish Power. I had the usual quartely 'your meter readings are due' email reminder. Logged in to Scottish Power and noticed that the previous meter readings were unusually low (in the 00's) instead of around the 7000 mark. Turns out the previous reading was supplied by someone who turned up to read the meter.

      I thought nothing of it and entered the correct readings. Scottish Power's website then proceeded to tell me that I owed them £9000. Of course you are then locked out from supplying any different readings for that day. Rang customer services, on hold for 30 minutes! (Argh) and was told politely by the operator that she was also locked out of editing my account. However, to her credit she at least rang me back 15 minutes later to say she'd had a word with her supervisor and managed to correct everything. Although she did say check the follow up bill and call them back if there were any problems. I notice this becoming more common practice these days, get the customer to do the work that the service/utility provider should be doing themselves and not allowing to happen in the first place.

  4. Fuzzysteve

    Had this happen to me

    with Scottish Gas.

    Hardly a big problem. Gave them a call and was assure I wouldn't be billed that much. And I wasn't.

  5. Andy Taylor


    Is it even possible to go "round the meter" within 14 days in a normal sized house?

    Would it not be better to prevent you from entering a lower figure and then directing you to call?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I tried this...

      Disconnect the gas pipe just as it comes out of the meter and let it free-flow. In reality it turns out the meter stops working after the third explosion on day 2.

      1. Velv Silver badge

        It takes 10p-20p worth of gas to blow up your average sized house - hardly going to make the wheels of the meter rotate at a blistering speed.

        But I like your sarcasm!

        1. thejackle
          Thumb Up

          Only 10 to 20p....

          Wow, that's great value. I can think of where I'd like to spend a couple of quids worth.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Only 10p or 20p

          As the Joker said:

          "I like dynamite, and gunpowder...(...) And gasoline! Do you know what all of these things have in common? They're cheap!"

          Apparently gas is cheap too.

    2. Mike Dimmick

      One million cubic feet

      One unit on an older gas meter is 100 cubic feet according to . 10,000 units would be one million cubic feet.

      The average home floor plan is reportedly 91 square meters, which is about 980 square feet. Allow ten feet of height (which is more than adequate!) and you get something like 10,000 cubic feet in an average property. So a wrap-around on the meter would completely fill 100 average properties.

  6. Bob Dunlop

    Plenty of time to pay

    Well Southern Electrics Feed-In-Tariff meter reading page was down altogether when I tried it 6 days ago, had to email the reading in.

    They give you just a 5 day window to submit the reading and then say "We aim to make your payment within 65 working days after receiving your readings" so 13 weeks.

    If that's their terms when they owe you money I guess it only fair we apply the same terms when we owe them.

    1. Andus McCoatover

      65 "workin' daze" . That's 3 months in 'real numbers'

      You're having a fuc*king laugh!

      OK, Keep the recieipt for the payment, wait 6 months for the bailiffs to turn up, when they do, present them with the receipt.

      They pay their expenses. Might dissuade them a bit.

  7. Richard 31
    Paris Hilton

    Lots of gas?

    So if you have a meter reading of say 1000, and then over the course of a billing period manage to use 10001 units, your meter ought to read 1001, would you only be charged for 1 unit of gas?

    Time to put the gas on ultra!

    I suppose to make it less suspicious you should use 10400 units or something similar.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Would it even be physically possible to get 10,001m^3 of gas through your meter in three months?

      1. 142


        According to google, domestic UK gas meters have a max flow rate of 6m^3/hour.... which means, the answer would appear to be "yes"...

        1. Onid

          always wondered ...

          if possible to compress gas through some gas safe compressor unit and would resulting liquified gas be the same as LPG that cars run on that could probably reset meter!!!

          Solves everything..... run a gas generator for power, plug said generator into grid instead of photovoltaics on roof and not only not pay but actually make money from feed in tariff... hhhmmmm....

          and finally run car and not pay for all that stupid tax on the fuel....

          1. Pete B

            LPG <> LNG

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        of course it is....

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        My gas-meter's in cubic feet...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Joys Of User Friendly Automation

    Couple of big phat phails there. Communications phail. Behind-your-back game-changing phail. Customer expectation phail. And so on, and so phorth. At least they're promising (after the victim done and gone public) to not actually demand the customer pony up for their greedy stupid stuff, but of course with a company full of phailure like that, everyone else'll be thinking "we'll believe it when we see it".

    As a prudency measure, just how likely the gas meter has run up to 9999, back to 0, and up to slightly under the estimate, eh? It's unlikely even if it's below the previous estimate (if that was an estimate), so it's hardly reasonable to set your own estimates in stone. Inviting the customer to get stung with an outrageous bill in the name of customer friendlyness is just that more icing on the cake.

    The worst thing is, of course, that it's entirely avoidable. A couple seconds thought, playing "what if" scenarios, and if that's too hard (and what're you still doing playing developer, or worse, project manager for this customer facing project, eh?), there are rich online resources with lots of discussion. A good one is the old RISKS list (or digest), and its archives. I'd read it more often if it wasn't so depressing. Pretty sure these peeps have earned their mention there, too.

    1. Hugo Rune

      Is the f on your keyboard phucked?

      1. 404 Silver badge
        Thumb Up


        Made me laugh = Upvote!

        I didn't even scan - figured just another pretentious phuck and moved on.

        1. Sarev

          He's got a typing liphp.

  9. Jon Press

    Communications protocols...

    ... have the same issue when their sequence numbers wrap.

    Only they don't break.

    Or at least not since the ARPANET crash of 1980.

    If Southern really expect their customers to wrap their meters within the space of 2 weeks then they must be losing an awful lot of money through quarterly billing.

  10. Still Water

    Just, huh? If that's a feature, then the person who designed it needs to have a severe re-think. Sure coping with the 99999 roll-over might have a little bit of logic, but when you're in the 13000s, it's rather unlikely...

  11. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Even if she had used all that

    I bet she was still cold.

  12. Mike Dolan

    Umm - my meter (replaced with a brand new one last year) actually has 5 digits before the decimal point. So this makes no sense? Yes, loop at 100,000 - but not at 10,000. Methinks there could be more to this than the explanation given?

    1. Ian Ferguson

      Mine only has four digits, and that's fairly common, especially with older meters. Your newer one probably has more digits precisely because of this issue.

      1. ChrisC

        Metric vs Imperial

        Metric meters increment 2.83x faster than imperial ones (m^3 vs 100's of ft^3), so adding an extra digit to metric meters also means they'll not wrap-around any sooner than an imperial one given the same volume of gas flow.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        "Your newer one probably has more digits precisely because of this issue."

        Possibly, but since the 4 digit wrap-around corresponds to a £13,000 bill, I'm inclined to think that 4 digits is already sufficient to avoid ambiguity.

        Perhaps the modern trend for not bothering to read meters means that the interval between *reliable* readings is now an order of magnitude longer than it used to be.

  13. JaitcH

    Perhaps they were factoring in anticipated ...

    potential fuel rate increases.

    The utility hikes in Britain are highway robbery.

    Other suppliers look up historical consumption patterns and if there is a variance outside certain limits the account is flagged for human intervention.

    1. David Neil

      Scottish Power don't

      With last years cold spell my daily electrical useage spiked at 65Kwh - about 2.5 times normal. Got to love the rotten storage heaters my landlord has fitted :(

      At the same time my fixed price deal came to an end and it was a month before I clocked on.

      The didn't call me, but I did get a nice message when I entered my meter readings that my monthly direct debit was going from £40 per month to £106, some haggling got it down to £90, but I'm seriously considering moving somewhere warmer - ideally with no snakes though

  14. Eddie Edwards

    Funny, EON wrote to me when their meter reader made a balls up (instead of reading 05454 or whatever, he'd read 15454). They didn't state the amount, they just said "mind checking your meter reading and giving us a call, you're due a large bill and we want to make sure it's right". Much better than the heart attack of receiving a 5-figure bill.

    I ended up figuring out how much gas they reckoned I'd used, and it was half a gasometer's worth. You'd have thought they might have noticed that much gas going missing ...

    Apropos of nothing, does anyone else find Chrome crashes with regularity *only* in the Register's comment form?

  15. DrDGCC


    I can't quite beat that that - but I once got an estimated bill of about £11,400 from Powergen...

  16. Andus McCoatover


    Rob's mom was obviously running an iron smelting foundary in her garden shed, and not declaring the profits to HMRC. Stands to reason...Evidence abundantly clear. (Well, clear enough for British plods).

    1. Velv Silver badge

      Iron smelting foundaries tend to generate a lot of steam as you cool the steel, which makes them difficult to hide. You can stick up a Leyllandi hedge but people tend to notice huge plooms of white vapour, and consequently HMRC know where 80% of the foundaries are.

      More likely to be some furuistic advanced fractional cracking process splitting the methane into carbon for the production of man-made diamionds and the hydrogen for sale to all the Honda Clarity owners in Stockport (although I'm guessing a quick check of the DVLA records would show up an illegal hydrogen production facility).

      1. Andus McCoatover

        Thanks for the downvote, Velv.

        'Nuff said, by not spotting the joke icon...Yeah, take yer coat.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge


          Just because someone comments doesnt mean THEY downvoted you. I dunno. These yunguns nowadays.

  17. Mark 65 Silver badge


    Not only the biggest logic fail I've ever witnessed, given they have prior history on the user's account in order that they could do the estimate, but they even felt the need to state that they wouldn't actually be charging £13k - no shit, that'd be illegal. Utter muppets.

  18. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


    Gas_used = min(New_Reading - Old_Reading, New_Reading + 10000 - Old_Reading)

    If they can't work that one out, then they have no business running a billing operation.

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      It might look more like this








      No, I'm not shouting...

      1. Nick Rutland

        Hey, this is a utility bill...

        .. and the code has END-IF's in it? Strugglingly modern, I'd say. (Old COBOL hands will spot what I mean).

      2. Bob. Hitchen

        just find a phucking big storage container

        Then fill the thing with gas until meter goes round clock and back to slightly positive on last reading.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The most obvious test is to assume lower readings than estimated are being entered. If they can't get that right then there is no hope for them.

    And to try to excuse it by some arbitrary time limit on being able to correct the bill, even though it is yet to be paid, just beggars belief.

    Why is it that it seems it's the clowns that make all the decisions these days?


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