Households are being unfairly pressured into getting smart meters, according to complaints received by Citizens Advice, which runs the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) helpline.
Issues seen by the CTSI include households being given so-called ‘deemed appointments’ – where suppliers say they’re coming to install smart meters without giving consumers a chance to opt out.
Other complaints include communications about smart meters omitting the fact they’re not compulsory.
As a result, the CTSI has written a letter to industry body Energy UK asking it to remind suppliers not to give the impression to households that smart meters are obligatory. The organisation is concerned suppliers may be breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The CTSI has the power to launch criminal prosecutions against rule breakers.
Steve Playle, lead office for energy at the CTSI told Moneywise: “The industry is under great pressure to install meters by the 2020 deadline, but they’re slipping behind, and as such, they’re finding more and more ‘interesting’ ways to get people to sign up.”
Victoria MacGregor, director of energy at Citizens Advice adds: "We are concerned that some companies are using aggressive sales practices to install smart meters. People have come to Citizens Advice for help because their energy supplier has said they’ll force entry to install a smart meter, or told them that they are required to have one.
"Smart meters are not compulsory and customers shouldn't feel pressured to have one installed if they don't want one.
"We appreciate that suppliers are under pressure to install more smart meters but they have a responsibility to act reasonably towards their consumers and not to use misleading or aggressive sales practices."
E.on and Npower customers not told meters aren’t compulsory
Moneywise has seen examples of such behaviour by energy suppliers. One text we’ve seen, which was sent to an Npower customer who wishes to remain anonymous, said that the provider was due to install a smart meter without the customer requesting one, and without stating that the scheme isn’t compulsory or how to opt out.
The text message says: “Hello! We are due to attend your property on behalf of Npower to fit Smart meters on 30/01/2018. Please call us today on [number has been blanked out by Moneywise] to confirm or rearrange your appointment.”
We raised this with Npower and the firm told Moneywise: “While smart meters bring many benefits to consumers, they are not compulsory and customers are not forced to have one. Customers who are offered an appointment but don’t want a smart meter can contact us to cancel their appointment.
“This specific message relates to a reminder to the customers who have not confirmed, rescheduled or cancelled an existing appointment. These are sent via SMS or email as part of the follow up process.
“When the initial appointment communications are sent via the customer’s preferred channel, they are given options on how they respond to the proposed appointment date and time, including the option to cancel the appointment.”
However, while Npower says the message is a follow-up text, the reader is adamant that it was the first communication they’d received on smart meters. About a week later they did receive a follow-up email from Npower, which again Moneywise has seen. While this did contain more information about smart meters, again it only gave the customer the opportunity to ‘confirm’ or ‘change’ their appointment – not to cancel it.
Other letters Moneywise has seen, which were sent to an E.on customer who wishes to remain anonymous, include the following statements: “Your meter is being phased out. Please go online or call us to book your appointment… We need to install smart meters in all homes as part of a nationwide upgrade programme.
“We need to change your meter… Your electricity meter is an old model that we need to replace with our free self-reading smart meter.”
Nowhere in either letter did it state that smart meters were not compulsory or how customers could opt out of having them installed.
When we put this to E.on, a spokesman told us: “We’re obliged to contact our customers about upgrading their classic meters with a new self-reading smart meter to support our commitment to Ofgem.
“While smart meters are not compulsory, we firmly believe smart meters offer a number of significant benefits for customers, including bringing an end to estimated bills and the ability to gain a greater understanding of their energy use which can help them lower their energy consumption. If a customer does not want a smart meter then they can contact us.”
E.on adds that if a customer needs a meter replaced for safety or legal reasons, they can opt for a classic meter instead of a smart meter.
Suppliers must be ‘transparent’ when communicating with customers
When we raised this issue of customers being pressured into getting a smart meter with energy regulator Ofgem, it told us suppliers must treat customers fairly and be “transparent and accurate”. However, it has no open investigations into domestic smart meter wrong-doing at the time of writing.
An Energy UK spokesperson says: “Energy companies are committed to meeting the government’s deadline of ensuring all households and businesses are offered a smart meter by 2020.
“Energy companies will be adopting various methods of communication with their customers to increase engagement and enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits that smart meters bring.”
What are smart meters?
Smart meters are the energy gadget being offered and installed in every household that wants one across England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.
By the end of the programme, which began in 2016, around 53 million smart meters will be fitted in over 30 million premises, according to the government – which is spearheading the scheme.
The idea behind them is that they should make energy bills far more accurate than at present where they are estimated.
Smart meters are not compulsory - you can say no. Whether your energy provider fits SMETS1 or SMETS2 meters depends on the provider, so do check this first.
That said, the tariff you've signed up to requires a smart meter to be installed to access it. If you feel this wasn't made clear, you should complain. You can switch to a non-smart meter tariff but check for early exit fees first.
That is definitely not true. Anyone with a smart meter is free to switch to another supplier, the only issue is that your smart meter may not work with your new supplier, meaning you'll need to revert back to providing your own meter readings until the issue is resolved.
You can find more information on this in our guide: https://www.moneywise.co.uk/household-finances/energy-water/what-to-watc...
I'd be keen to hear more about this - please could you email firstname.lastname@example.org