Customers being misled over smart meters
The gadgets are no longer compulsory, but energy firms are still telling clients to install them. Sam Meadows reports
Energy companies appear to be telling their customers that installing a smart meter is compulsory, despite the Government abandoning its plan to have one in every home within three years. While it had been official policy that every home in the country would have a smart meter by 2020, the Queen’s Speech subtly downgraded this requirement to every home being “offered” a smart meter – meaning that they are no longer compulsory.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of smart meters have been replaced after their owners switched providers, rendering them inoperable.
E.On, the energy giant, has written to customers to tell them that old meters are being “phased out” and suggesting that they must have a smart meter installed. A call centre worker also told a customer that the Government would soon be making smart meters mandatory – an incorrect claim.
Smart meters, which can track energy usage in real time and display it on an easily accessible screen, were first adopted in Britain in 2009, but the roll-out has been plagued with controversy and some customers have found themselves massively overcharged because of faults.
E.On accepted that its call centre staff had made a mistake and said they would be “rebriefed”, but said it remained committed to rolling out smart meters. A spokesman warned that in the future customers with oldstyle meters could miss out on special energy tariffs.
“The introduction of smart meters is a vital upgrade to our national energy infrastructure and they will help significantly transform customers’ experiences for the better,” she said. “In the short term, customers benefit from greater visibility of their energy use. In the longer term, we’ll be able to offer more innovative tariffs. We recognise that switching to a smart meter is not compulsory; our advisers can discuss the advantages of having a smart meter but are clear that they are not a mandatory requirement.”
When Telegraph Money asked if the company was “phasing out” old meters, we were told: “As and when traditional meters come up for replacement, we seek to replace them with smart meters. But it is not compulsory for customers to have smart meters fitted.”
This newspaper has reported extensively on customers’ problems with smart meters, including a compatibility error that means those who switch providers find themselves needing a replacement smart meter.
Data from ElectraLink, the energy market research company, shows that almost 23,000 smart meters have been replaced after becoming inoperable following a change of provider.
Some customers have been overcharged by thousands of pounds
after their smart meter malfunctioned, while others have run into problems caused by the lack of a mobile phone signal near their home, meaning their meters deliver estimates rather than actual data.
In May, Ross Anderson, a Cambridge academic, used an article for this newspaper to criticise the Government for replacing meters that “cost £15 and lasted 50 years with new meters that cost £50 and last only 15”. The Government is still heavily promoting smart meters, despite the problems, and supporters say there are reasons to consider getting one.
Claire Maugham of Smart Energy GB, a government body set up to promote the meters, said they allowed customers to get more accurate readings. She added: “Nearly seven million smart meters have been
installed across Britain and people who’ve upgraded already love them. More than eight in 10 people who have smart meters would recommend them to others.” A spokesman for the Department for Business, E Energy and Industrial Strategy described smart meters as a “vital infrastructure upgrade”.
Meanwhile the energy regulator, O Ofgem, repeated th the warning from E.On about non-adopters missing out on potentially beneficial tariffs in future. A spokesman said: “Smart meters open the door to suppliers offering customers tariffs where they can reduce their bills if they use more electricity outside peak times.
“We are changing industry processes to make this possible. Customers will need a smart meter to take advantage of these tariffs.”
‘We recognise that switching to a smart meter is not compulsory’
Wrong number: Angela Forman’s bills soared because her new smart meter produced only estimated readings