Cus­tomers be­ing mis­led over smart me­ters

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - YOUR MONEY -

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

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