- Suppliers were ordered by Government to offer smart meters to all households
- Customers are not obliged to say ‘yes’ and can refuse to have one installed
- But letters and texts fail to make it clear that smart meters are optional
Energy companies are using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having smart meters in their homes — by scheduling dates to fit them without being asked and threatening to take away cheap deals.
Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to offer smart meters to all households in Britain by 2020 and face fines if they fail to meet the deadline.
Customers are not obliged to say ‘yes’ and can refuse to have one installed.
But Money Mail has been inundated with letters from readers who feel pressured into having one of the new meters and misled into thinking that they are compulsory.
They tell us they have been bombarded with calls, texts and letters even after they have refused one.
Hard sell: Energy companies are using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having optional smart meters in their homes
At least one major firm is sending out letters saying they have made a smart meter installation appointment, despite the customer never requesting one.
Another says this is something they are trialling. If customers do not want a new meter, they have to call and cancel, or an engineer will just turn up.
Suppliers are also sending out letters and texts to customers that fail to make it clear that smart meters are optional.
EDF Energy is texting customers: ‘We need to upgrade your meter to a smart meter’, while E.ON is sending letters that state in bold, red type: ‘Reminder: your meter is being phased out’. Scottish Power’s letters say ‘Action required’ next to a large, red exclamation mark.
Some E.ON customers have even been told they face losing their cheap deal if they refuse to have a new meter.
And last week, the supplier said it would replace its expensive standard tariffs with rolling deals that cost up to £262 a year less — but only if customers get a smart meter first.
These meters automatically send readings to your provider over a wireless connection. It means the end of estimated bills, and customers will be able to see more clearly how much energy they use, helping them to reduce their costs.
Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to offer smart meters to all households but they remain optional
But as many as one in five UK households says they do not want one. Some are concerned about how their personal data will be used. Others don’t want the hassle of waiting in for an engineer to call.
Many more are reluctant after learning that most of the 7.36 million meters already installed will stop working if you switch to a different supplier.
Money Mail does understand that this problem will be fixed through a software update — without an engineer even needing to visit. But no details have been confirmed so far.
DO THEY REALLY SAVE YOU MONEY?
Smart meters use wireless signals to communicate with your supplier, which means you don’t have to ring in meter readings.
You will also be able to see how much power you are using by the hour in pounds and pence on the meter’s small, computer-like screen.
There is no charge to have one fitted and it shouldn’t take an engineer longer than an hour to install.
Officials claim they will help you to save money, as you’ll be more aware of how much energy different appliances use — and reduce your consumption.
These digital meters will also ensure you are only billed for the power you’ve used, putting an end to estimated bills.
Most big energy companies are writing to customers to offer them one of the new smart meters.
However, some are only offering them in certain areas of the country and many smaller firms are not yet fitting them, so you may have to wait.
As many as one in three households is also being told they can’t have a meter because it won’t work in their property — for example, if the walls are too thick, or they live in a rural area with poor mobile phone signal.
One reader, who didn’t want to be named, reveals her elderly mother was bewildered when EDF Energy sent a letter saying it had booked an appointment for a smart meter to be fitted in her home, even though she hadn’t asked for one.
She says: ‘It’s misleading to just send out a letter with an appointment date and time. The wording suggested that all households had to have one.’
Andy Hookway, 57, a retired policeman from Plymouth, had a similar experience with EDF Energy. He says: ‘I said I didn’t want a smart meter, but they ignored this and sent me an appointment.
‘I called to cancel and then, the day before, they sent me a text reminder, so I called again.
‘Yet the engineer still showed up. When I turned him away, he said this happened to him at least every other day.’ EDF has apologised to both customers for any inconvenience.
Marnee and Keith Pringle, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, say they were told by E.ON that their off-peak rate would end — causing their electricity bills to soar from £1,820 to £3,086 a year — unless they switched to a smart meter.
The letter they received read: ‘To stay on a tariff with cheaper off-peak rates you need a different meter, and we’ll install a smart meter for free.’
The couple, who are both retired insurance brokers, already face high bills, as they live in an area with no gas supply.
Marnee, 69, says: ‘I feel like we’ve been backed into a corner.
‘We live in a cottage with thick walls and poor mobile phone signal, so what will happen if they can’t fit one?
Are we still going to be charged the higher tariff?’ Greg and Nina Stevens, both 68, from Northamptonshire, received a similar letter from E.ON, telling them their off-peak tariff would end and their bills would rise ‘significantly’ unless they had a new meter fitted.
Smart meters automatically send readings to your provider over a wireless connection. It means the end of estimated bills
When Money Mail intervened, E.ON admitted that neither the Pringles nor the Stevens had to have to have a smart meter fitted. They could continue to get their off-peak tariffs if they had new analogue meters installed.
E.ON also apologised for the wording of its letter.
Allison Rogers, 54, a depot manager, also from Northamptonshire, says she is fed up with receiving texts from her supplier, Scottish Power.
‘I have had numerous texts telling me to contact them to arrange for a smart meter to be fitted,’ she says.
‘They didn’t ask if I wanted one. They have now put a note on my file to say I don’t want one, but the lady I called said that I would eventually have to have one installed.’
Scottish Power has apologised for its actions.
Robert Mitchell, 81, a retired IT contractor from Birmingham, was called by Sainsbury’s Energy, part of British Gas, to say his meter was due for replacement, although it was just a few years old.
‘It wasn’t a question of whether or not I wanted one. It was like they were just letting me know I had to have one,’ he says.
Geoff and Jenny Payne, 68 and 65, from Kent, say: ‘We had a stream of emails and phone calls from British Gas. In the end, we became thoroughly sick of the matter and told them to stop contacting us.’
British Gas says: ‘If a customer tells us they do not want a smart meter, we stop sending them communications.’
A spokesman for EDF says that its approach of sending out smart meter appointments has been endorsed by the watchdog, Ofgem.
The spokesman added: ‘Customers are not obliged to accept the appointment and can rearrange or cancel by contacting us by phone or online.’
An E.ON spokesman says: ‘Smart meters offer a number of benefits for customers.
‘However, they are not compulsory and we’re reviewing our communications to ensure this is made clearer.’
Scottish Power says the exclamation mark symbol on its letters is ‘a standard prompt on customer communications to denote that action is required’.
An Ofgem spokeswoman says: ‘It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed — consumers have a right to decline them and suppliers must not mislead them.’
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online