Who should be responsible for resolving the long unread meters?

Historically, poor data quality and erroneous data in the water market has led to water retailers being left with a legacy of long unread meters to track and resolve.

This is a well-known and long-standing dilemma felt across the water industry. Should water retailers be paying for this pre-market opening legacy of erroneous data or should the issue of resolving the long unreads be pushed back to the water wholesalers, who owned the data in the first place?

The most recent MOSL data indicate that currently there are 190.27K LUMs in the marketplace which is 14.8% out of the total meters. It is common knowledge that these meters come from all types of customers – from SMEs all the way through to large scale industrial units.

The reasons behind long unread meters are far and wide ranging. Some descriptions of their location are vague, others are simply incorrect. Some meters are two-man lifts, they may also require special access or arrangements on to site. Another common reason would be that the meters are situated in confined spaces or a permanently flooded area. In order to examine this, it is important to assess why LUMs are an issue.

Whose responsibility is this and who is to own the cost of resolving LUMs?

Is this fair to suggest that the wholesalers should be managing LUMs or should the truth lie somewhere in between?

It’s evident that non-household water market considers options for potential changes to meter roles and responsibilities with the MOSL leading the way by bringing together independent industry research and panels for discussion, then decision-making.

At the recent MOSL Webinar, Claire Yeates, Strategic Director for Waterscan and sponsor of the strategic programme on behalf of the Metering Committee said: “Five years on from the opening of the market, we are keen to ensure the current roles and responsibilities are working for trading parties and customers.

“It could be considered, for example, that the decision to shift responsibility for reading meters from wholesalers to retailers, which seemed logical at the time, made the process more complicated and increased the cost of reading meters for some companies. We have kept all options on the table at this stage and are keen to hear stakeholders’ views or suggestions of any options we might have overlooked, or any that are non-starters.” (MOSL, NNH Meter Roles and Responsibilities)

Martin Hall from MOSL has pointed out that the decision on the matter would lie with the option that delivers maximum benefits to the customers and to the market.


Resolved and non-resolved Long Unread Meters – what are they?

First off, what do we mean when we describe a LUM as being “resolved” here, in Occutrace?

Our agents in the field work find and read water meters that others simply aren’t able to. When a meter is located, it is referred to in the industry as being “resolved”. Our unique blend of modern technology and traditional field research makes failed meter read visits (unresolved meters) a thing of the past.

No one is fond of estimated billing, which occurs when meters are unable to be located – the impacts of which are felt by water companies, and their non-household customers alike. On average, only 85% of meters are read during cyclical meter reads, according to the MOSL data. Tracing and reading LUMs requires significant time and resource from the market operators. As was fairly mentioned by the RWG Chair and CEO of the Castle Water Ray Porter during one of recent MOSL User Forums, it is not a given that a meter reader will have a luxury of time to be spent on site to find, test, and resolve the meter. This is one of the key deliverables that Occutrace can provide – you have your long unread meter resolved in majority number of cases and you have a detailed information from the site that explains ‘why’ the LUM is challenging to be resolved.

At the end of the day, each unresolved LUM comes at a considerable repeatedly charged cost to a water retailer, that cost is growing over time. Because of this and also pursuing compliance with the industry standards, water companies would be aiming to trace and resolve the long unread within the shortest time possible. It pays to resolve your LUM portfolio – both financially and in terms of your reputation within the industry.

Pressures and solutions

One of the solutions available is to use a company specialist in data tracing and management such as Occutrace to step in and help. Out of the 15% of those long unreads that others are unable to find, Occutrace reach more than 85% of them. Even then, you will only be charged for the LUMs we resolve with no fees for the unresolved SPIDs.

Industry regulator MOSL publish a quarterly Peer Comparison league table. These tables take water retailers and arrange them based on performance against the Market and Operational Performance Standards. Underperforming parties are named and shamed, the ignominy of which leads to water companies not on top of long unread meters facing reputational damage amongst their peers and regulatory bodies. We help you avoid being named and shamed erroneously.

Such performance analysis is strategic priority for MOSL. The primary objective is to increase the volume and quality of consumption data available to the market, and therefore improve the ability for trading parties to provide timely and accurate bills to customers. Increasing transparency means increasing data accuracy – something that is as important as ever within the industry as we look to emerge from COVID.

Benefits of resolving your LUM Portfolio

The 3 key benefits of resolving long unreads include:

  • Accurate customer billing leading to customer retention and greater propensity to pay. If we can’t read the meter, we’ll explain why. It may be that the meter has been moved or is now obstructed. Whatever the case may be, when you know about the issue, you can do something about it.
  • Increased customer satisfaction. We guarantee an outcome. When other providers try and fail, you’re no more enlightened. They take their fee. They don’t explain why it couldn’t be reached, leaving you to repeat the process over, and over.
  • Increased compliance leading to improved reputational peer comparison. The threat of regulatory fines loom large on your horizon.

Forget payments for unsuccessful visits

In our world, you get what you pay for, and our clients should never pay when results aren’t forthcoming. From a price standpoint, here at Occutrace we don’t believe in paying for unsuccessful visits so our approach is ‘No Success/Value, No Pay’. The value-based outcome model makes sense in any industry but is particularly beneficial when it comes to meter reads. Our clients only pay when we provide data that is valuable to them so no more charges for failed visits or poor data.

Long unread meters must be addressed. Having an accurate understanding of how much water is being used, by whom, and during which time period is fundamental to market settlement.