Households pressured into getting smart meters

Published by Helen Knapman on 30 January 2018.
Last updated on 30 January 2018

Households pressured into getting smart meters

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.

Leave a comment

But smart meters aren't more

But smart meters aren't more accurate, they just give up-to-date readings compared to infrequent manual readings. At the end of the year, you pay exactly the same.

Interesting to hear about

Interesting to hear about pressure being put on customers when customers like me who are asking our energy supplier to install one keep getting told they haven't got around to area yet!

Also tell them the danger of

Also tell them the danger of having them fitted. If you don't know you should not be telling them advantages of having them fitted.

Anglian Water changed my

Anglian Water changed my water meter to a smart meter without even contacting me. The meter is in airing cupboard which is in middle of bungalow next to bedrooms, one day a guy came to door when I was in bed ill and said he had been sent by Anglian Water to fit new meter, I was not told it was a smart meter untill after it had been fitted then I was told they could read it from a van at the road side and not need to enter property. This could have been very distressing to some old people living alone like me. I object to smart meters for gas and electricity as they can be used to their advantage and does not reduce my bills as I have had an energy monitor installed for years and is ignored after first few weeks, they are almost useless.

Complain and complain and

Complain and complain and complain. Go to your MP. Go to an ombudsman. In short, make their life hell; it can be a lot of fun.

My electricity meter was

My electricity meter was replaced in 2015. At the time, I was offered - by default - a smart meter. Having read of the vulnerability of these devices to hacking (and the very old data transfer system that underlies this vulnerability), I specifically chose to have a normal meter installed. I expected that another classic meter would be installed, but instead it appears that the installer fitted what is defacto a smart meter, merely excluding the in-house display box. I have regularly provided my own meter readings ever since and am content to continue doing so.
However, on a different note, I am very unhappy with the behaviour of the company that reads the meters in my area - I will not name them, but I live in Shropshire and other people in my area may have experienced the same issue and know who the company is. Due to my work patterns, I am often at home during 'normal' hours, hence available to admit a meter reader. On more than one occasion, I have seen a card put through my letter box while I was at home (and awake) telling me to call some expensive phone number to report my readings because I was 'not at home' when the reader called. The readers never return for a second attempt, incidentally. Clearly this is an overt money-making scheme by the meter reading company. I report my readings regularly directly to my energy supplier. If the meter reading company really believed in the duty to 'inspect' my meter, they would make more of an effort to do so, but this particular company obviously does not believe in that duty.

Believe that I've been duped

Believe that I've been duped into having a smart meter fitted by SSE. I do not have an indoor meter that tells me how much certain appliances are using but an outside meter was fitted last summer which looks very different to those l am used to. It was not made clear as to what type of meter it was. l am an elderly, disabled widow and l feel that SSE think that they can take advantage of my disposition. I have since changed my utility supplier . l certainly don't want a smart meter as l believe this is a rouse by the government to take control of utility services but they can only do that if everyone has a smart meter. Am l entitled to have the meter changed back to the old style if a smart meter was fitted without my permision?

It sounds as though you got

It sounds as though you got the same kind of new meter as I did. I specifically stated that I did not want a 'smart' meter, so expected a conventional mechanical meter to be installed. When I looked, the installer had fitted a little digital meter. This may double as a smart meter. but only when combined with a separate transmitter box. I am still requested to supply my own readings and am happy to do so. As long as you still have somebody coming to read your meter and/or your supplier requests you to provide readings, you do not have a 'smart' meter.

Readers of this need to be

Readers of this need to be aware of the very powerful EMFs that smart meters emit, and that such EMFs have several potential health risks?

Very interesting read as I

Very interesting read as I have been pestered by FIRST UTILITY to have a smart meter. I have rung them , emailed them and texted them to inform them I do not want a smart meter and it is not law that I have to have one, and they still continue to bombard me. I have told them when my contract is up I will move provider as a result of ignoring my requests.
I will not even consider having a smart meter until they can be used across all providers without having to be changed every time you change to a different company.

Ive had a couple of these

Ive had a couple of these installation appointments despite having never registered any interest in having a smart meter..especially the redundant first generation smart meter. I cancelled of course. The next step I'm guessing is notification my current meter has reached the end of its life and needs replacing. Given the fact the " classic" meters have a lifespan of up to 50 years and Ive only had it 10 years..well i wish them luck getting one installed :)

Smart meters are not required

Smart meters are not required to avoid estimated bills, except perhaps for those who cannot take and submit their own readings. I’ve not had an estimated bill for many years as I send readings when requested. I even occasionally receive a visit from a meter reader!!

If they were to offer a small

If they were to offer a small discount on the normal tariffs for having a smart meter, rather than wasting money on sending me countless letters and running adverts I would consider one. I think all the benefits are for the electricity company. I find the radio adverts particularly annoying. Are you supposed to stop cooking your stir fry half way through and eat it uncooked having realised it has already cost you 2p which was more than you budgeted ?

Whilst EDF did not pressure

Whilst EDF did not pressure me to have smart meter fitted it did not highlight the problems until the meters were fitted.
It could not fit the most up to date meter, which would have enabled me to change companies without changing the meter, apparently because of the problems with the newer technology.
It would not do away with meter readings as these would still have to be done every two years.
When the technician came he was only able to fit the electric meter and the gas pipe was of 'industrial' size which needed a different fitting and a 'more qualified' technician. When the new meter was eventually fitted, having been seen by several more senior EDF employees, they put a pressure test on the system and I was told there was a leak on the system into the house and could not connect the meter. It showed a 5 on their test meter which was unacceptable, whereas if it had been a 4 and no smell of gas it would have been OK. This was at the beginning of December when it was cold so no heating, gas hob nor gas fires.
I then had to make my own arrangements to have the leak sorted out. As all the pipework ran through concrete throughout the house it could not be renewed so new pipes had to be run round the outside of the house and through the ceiling to the boiler. The engineers doing this remedial work said they had had to deal a considerable number of similar problems.
Would I have had a smart meter fitted if I had known of these problems? Would you?

So they capped you off due to

So they capped you off due to your pipework having a gas leak that's there duty and they have to do it by law then you had to pay for an engineer to come and repair your leaking pipework what have they done wrong 4mbr is a permissable drop 5mbr is not they could of saved your life

My mother has had such a

My mother has had such a letter from her electricity providers. I read it thoroughly last night with her. These gadgets work via a mobile phone signal network, so if you live in an area where coverage is poor (like my mother), they might not be as effective as the authorities would like.

The so called benefits of these things are really aimed at multiple occupancy homes,(families) where a lot of energy is being consumed. Elderly folks are already frugal with their power usage, because they have to be, and should not be persuaded to have a techy gadget fitted that they dont understand, or want.

It actually involves not just a new electricity meter, (usually located in a cupboard), but another gadget box (modem unit) connected to power somewhere, to transmit the signal to the authorities. My mother justifiably said she didn't want a gadget box in her kitchen, like her neighbour now has, with its neon constantly glowing. Q. what happens when that gadget goes wrong....as gadgets sometimes do?!

NO THANKS IS OUR VIEW!

Smart meters can cause health

Smart meters can cause health problems. They emit Electro Magnetic Fields. It is best not to have one installed.

I've been told that, once a

I've been told that, once a smart meter is installed , customers are not allowed to change their supplier but must stick with the supplier who installed the smart meter.
Is this true ? If so, it's not widely advertised either.

Hi Phoebe,

Hi Phoebe,

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...

Best wishes,

Moneywise Helen

 

my energy supplier OVO has

my energy supplier OVO has just told me that if I don't have a the new meters installed that my new contract due at the end of july 2018 will cost me over £100 /per year more than a customer who agrees to have a meter fitted this over and above the normal increase with the rising prices my tariff has always been a on-line tariff and I always send my meter readings in at the end of every period I have never complained about the adjustments OVO make to my direct payment and I am currently over £900 in credit