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Malfunctioning Meters

Malfunctioning Meters

Utilities rely on electric and gas meters to correctly record energy usage to calculate monthly bills. Though rare, if your utility discovers your meter has not been performing properly, they may charge you for inaccurately billed energy usage. It’s important to know what rights you have as a customer in these situations. Below is some background information about meters and guidance on how to deal with a malfunctioning meter and other billing errors.

Occasionally a meter will malfunction or be read incorrectly. This will likely cause a billing error that needs to be fixed. When a customer’s previous bills were wrong, the amount a utility can charge is determined by the type of error that took place. 

In the case of physical issues with the meter that cause it to incorrectly calculate the amount of electricity or gas used:

  • When a meter is found to be overreporting your usage, the utility must refund the overcharge.
  • When a meter is found to be underreporting your usage, the utility may charge for underpayment.
  • These refunds and charges are tied to the nature of the meter malfunction and the last date your meter was tested by your utility.
    • When a meter is reading too fast or too slow, the utility may charge you over a time period equal to half the time elapsed since your meter was last tested. If the utility is reasonably certain of when the error began, it may refund or charge you for up to one year of incorrect billing. Otherwise, refunds or charges cannot be issued for more than  a six month period.
      • For example: if your meter was last read in January of a given year, your utility identifies issues with your meter reporting in the month of July, and the utility is uncertain of the date the error began, the maximum you may be charged or refunded is for three months’ worth of inaccurately reported energy usage.
      • For example: if your meter was last read in January of the prior year, your utility identifies issues with your meter reporting the following July, and the utility is uncertain of the date the error began, the maximum you may be charged or refunded is for six months’ worth of inaccurately reported energy usage.
    • When a meter is found to either register intermittently or fails to register at all, the utility may charge or refund you for an estimated amount of utility usage. These estimates are based on an average of your usage over a similar timeframe in the past. In no circumstances may a utility charge you for a period longer than a year.
  • Finally, if you have notified your utility of a faulty meter and they have not tested it within a reasonable time frame, the utility may not bill you for the period between the date you notified your utility of the error and the date it was finally tested.

In the case of an incorrect meter reading or the application of an incorrect rate to calculate your bill:

  • The utility must refund the overcharge if you have been overcharged by more than $1 ($2 for people that are no longer customers of the utility).
  • Refunds are calculated by identifying the difference between the cost of services rendered and the cost of collected charges, plus interest, for a period of three years prior to the date of discovery of the error.
  • Refunds may be sent in the form of cash or credit on your utility bill. Credits must be clearly identified on your monthly statement.
  • When you have been undercharged, the utility may rebill the undercharge.
    • Undercharges are calculated by identifying the difference between the cost of services rendered and the cost of collected charges, without interest, for a period of one year prior to the date of discovery of the error. The undercharge amount must exceed $10 for the utility to rebill you.
  • If you have notified your utility of an error with your machine, and the utility has not followed up in a reasonable time frame to check the status of your meter, you cannot be billed for any undercharge incurred after the date of notification.
  • Finally, if the utility can identify the date the meter error first occurred with reasonable certainty, refunds and rebilling will be calculated based upon that date.

What to do if you face back-charges for meter errors

It may come as a shock when additional charges have been added to your utility bill due to faulty meter readings. See below for important information you should request from your utility when you find yourself in this situation:

  • Date the error began.
  • Event that caused the error: Once your meter has been assessed by a representative of your utility company, they should have a good idea of what caused the faulty meter readings in the first place. This can impact what you are charged for and over what period of time. In some cases, if it is determined that your meter has been intentionally tampered with to reduce the amount of energy consumption reported to your utility, you may be charged with replacing it – or more.
  • Itemization and narrative explanation of the charges: Along with knowing what period you are being billed for, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are being charged for and why. If the faulty meter readings extended over a long timeframe, you may be charged at different seasonal rates. Review the prior year’s bill to check if the charges seem reasonable, based on your typical consumption and factoring in reasonable differences that weather may create in your energy usage. 

If you would like to challenge a fee from your utility, you may contact the Consumer Affairs Office at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission: 651-296-0406,  1-800-657-3782, or consumer.puc@state.mn.us.

Surprise charges for under collection of utility usage can cause a lot of stress and confusion for your household. If you are ever struggling to keep up with payments on your utility bill, review CUB’s resource library for both financial assistance resources as well as tips and tricks to lower your energy consumption.

CUB is here to help you make sense of your energy bill and identify a path forward. If you have questions or run into problems, CUB can help. Contact us at 651-300-4701, info@cubminnesota.org, or by Facebook message.

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