“Urgent government intervention” into the roll-out of household smart meters is needed, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
The British Infrastructure Group (BIG), which is made up of 93 MPs, has criticised the government’s roll-out of the energy gadgets in England, Scotland and Wales as being “plagued by repeated delays and cost increases, with suppliers now almost certain to miss the 2020 deadline, and programme benefits likely to be slashed even further”.
Issues stated in the report – many of which have already been reported on by Moneywise – include:
- First generation ‘SMETS1’ meters are still being rolled out, which aren’t always interoperable on switching provider. They won’t become interoperable until the end of this year.
- Suppliers using scare tactics to convince customers to accept a meter. These include stating bills would otherwise go up, smart meters are compulsory, current meters are unsafe, and booking installations without a customer’s consent.
- A lack of supplier installation capacity, meaning suppliers are “almost certain to miss the 2020 roll-out target”.
- Delays and cost increases meaning the saving on an annual dual fuel bill has fallen from £26 to just £11.14.
In a damning comment, Ken Clarke MP and member of BIG says: “Personally, I have been declining to have a smart meter fitted in my home, until I can be absolutely sure that I will get a second generation meter that will not put any difficulties in the way of changing supplier if I ever wish to do so.
“It is absolutely scandalous that utilities are still providing smart meters which discourage their customers from considering switching and try to keep them captive in their old contracts.”
Georgie Frost, consumer advocate at comparison site GoCompare, adds: “Faced with a potential saving of £11 a year by sticking with your smart meter provider, or saving £210 by switching to a better deal, the ‘smart’ move currently must be to switch provider. Long term the objective has to be that all smart meters are fully portable to ensure the switching revolution continues, and smart meter customers get the full benefit of cheaper energy bills.”
‘Installation of second generation meters should be fast-tracked’
As such, BIG is calling on the government to outline fully costed scenarios for the likely event the roll-out target is delayed until 2021 or 2022, including the savings which customers can realistically expect to see through their bills.
The group also wants the government and energy regulator Ofgem to ensure that suppliers “immediately” begin the mass production and installation of second generation ‘SMETS2’ meters.
It adds that suppliers should also be made to utilise the usage data they now possess to annually recommend the best tariff a customer could be on.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) comments: “Smart meters are putting consumers in control of their energy use and are already benefiting millions of homes and small businesses across Great Britain – with 80% recommending a smart meter to family and friends.
“It’s simply wrong to say first-generation meters are ‘obsolete’ as they offer smart services now and will continue do so as they are enrolled into the smart metering network. However we welcome ideas on how to ensure the ongoing success of the smart meter roll out and are already working with Ofgem on issues raised in the report.”
An Ofgem spokesperson adds: “The smart meter rollout is a major national infrastructure project and suppliers have a challenging and important task. By replacing an outdated metering system, suppliers will put an end to estimated bills, and pave the way towards a more energy efficient future.
“Ofgem is closely monitoring suppliers’ approach to the rollout and will hold suppliers to account through their obligations to treat consumers fairly.”