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United Utilities has taken meter reading back in-house after 20 years of contracting it out.

The company has hired 80 staff to carry out meter reads and respond more quickly to customers’ needs.

The new employees previously did the work as part of an out-sourced contract but United Utilities was inspired by the energy sector to employ staff directly.

Michelle Atkinson, United Utilities’ head of income who oversaw the change, said: “We’ve been looking at what other utility companies, particularly the energy companies, have been doing with their meter reading services and wanted to give our customers the same sort of flexibility and great service. Digital online services weren’t around 20 years ago and there are lots of ways we can use those services now to give customers a much better experience,”

Customers will have the option to submit readings online, reads can be taken more quickly when people move house and the frequency of reads will be reviewed to reflect individual circumstances.

The team will be trialling increased use of automated meter reading (AMR), which is currently available in 24 areas where the company has an agreement with councils to fit devices into bin lorries which take readings on the way past customers’ homes.

The new employees’ vans are AMR-enabled to extend automatic readings into a much larger area.