We present a highly sensitive gas detection approach for the infamous ‘nerve agent’ group of alkyl phosphonate compounds. Signal transduction is achieved by monitoring the work function shift of metal–organic framework UiO-66-NH2 coated electrodes upon exposure to ppb-level concentrations of a target simulant. Using the Kelvin probe technique, we demonstrate the potential of electrically insulating MOFs for integration in field effect devices such as ChemFETs: a three orders of magnitude improvement over previous work function-based detection of nerve agent simulants. Moreover, the signal is fully reversible both in dry and humid conditions, down to low ppb concentrations. Comprehensive investigation of the interactions that lead towards this high sensitivity points towards a series of confined interactions between the analyte and the pore interior of UiO-66-NH2.