Restricted meters

Energy customers on restricted meters could be paying more for their gas and electricity. Find out more.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 16 June 2020  | 4 min read

Key points

  • Customers on restricted hour tariffs (RHTs) could be paying more for energy
  • Measures introduced by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have made it easier for energy customers to switch from RHTs
  • Smart meters can help to make sure people pay a fair price for energy
  • Comparing tariffs and suppliers will help you find the best deal for gas and electricity

What is a restricted meter?

A restricted meter (also known as a non-standard meter) generally refers to a meter where energy customers are charged lower rates for electricity at certain times of the day. Specifically, when there’s less demand for energy.

The meter could charge lower rates for a continuous period of time. Or it might charge it at various time periods over 24 hours.

People using a restricted meter will have what’s known as a restricted hours tariff (RHT). The most common is the Economy 7 meter. As the name suggests, this tariff charges lower energy costs seven hours of the day.

However, there are many non-Economy 7 restricted meters still in use. Ofgem says that customers on these tariffs are quite often vulnerable. According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) they usually pay more for energy, too.

Restricted meters can also be found in properties with more than one meter, where energy is only available through each meter at different times of the day. Different rates may be charged for each meter.

Switching Economy 7 and other RHTs

It used to be hard for customers on RHTs to switch tariffs and benefit from cheaper energy. This was down to a number of reasons, including:

  • The need to change meter (which could prove stressful and costly, especially if home rewiring was required)
  • Problems accessing information (e.g. RHTs aren’t supported by online search tools)
  • Limited/no choice of suppliers offering bespoke tariffs

But things changed in September 2017. A remedy introduced by the CMA meant customers could switch to a single-rate tariff without a meter change or extra charges.

The remedy affects people with Economy 10, Total Heating Total Control (THTC), ComfortPlus and other RHTs. It excludes customers with Economy 7 or smart prepayment meters (as tariff costs are limited by the prepayment price cap). The remedy was also put in place to ensure customers receive information about their tariff and energy usage.

Customers can now compare tariffs when on an RHT (or at least Economy 7). However, Economy 10 and some other tariffs may not be supported by some suppliers. It’s possible that these customers may have to have a new meter installed.

How much could restricted meter customers save by switching?

Energy suppliers have cost advantages when it comes to supplying customers on restricted meters.

But, despite this, restricted meters don’t tend to provide the best value for energy customers. When the CMA introduced its measures, it found around two thirds of people on restricted meters such as Economy 10 and THTC could save money by switching tariff. It worked out that they would save an average of £154 per year.

Of course, comparing energy prices and suppliers is the best way to find a great energy deal.

Smart meters

Smart meters are a significant development in the reform of the energy market. They help to make sure energy customers pay a fair price for gas and electricity.

The CMA’s measures were designed to be a temporary solution for RHT customers. This is because it’s expected the full rollout of smart meters will remove the barriers RHT customers face. This is now expected in 2024. However, many energy customers are already benefiting from smart meters.

Smart meters give real-time information on energy usage, helping suppliers charge customers more accurately. There’s the potential for smart time-of-use tariffs in the future too, which match the price of energy to when a customer uses it. For instance, charging less during off-peak hours.