- The roll-out of smart meters has been a mess despite a £224m ad campaign
- Claims that hand-held devices will yield annual savings of £23 remain unproven
- Installation programme is costing every household in Britain £420
Consumers offered smart readers can say no
The roll-out of smart meters is proving chaotic, prompting calls for it to be stopped.
Readers have contacted The Mail on Sunday in droves, listing a catalogue of problems with the meters. These include overcharging and equipment not working.
Smart meters began to be installed three years ago. They do away with the need for a meter to be read as usage is clocked remotely via radio waves that communicate directly with the energy supplier. They also come with hand-held devices that show the cost of energy consumed in near-real time.
Yet despite all the rhetoric – fuelled by a hugely expensive £224 million advertising campaign featuring cartoon characters Gaz and Leccy – the roll-out has been a mess.
Readers have highlighted seven big issues.
- The first generation of smart meters – SMETS 1 – often stop working if someone switches to another energy supplier.
- Some users have been over-billed, forcing them to have the meters replaced with traditional ones.
- The meters are vulnerable to hackers, despite design help from intelligence service Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Such security breaches could leave households vulnerable to burglars.
- The meters will often not work in rural areas, flats and homes with thick walls.
- The installation programme is costing £11 billion – £420 for every household in Britain.
- Some suppliers are bullying people into accepting a smart meter by threatening them with price hikes if they do not accept one.
- Claims that the hand-held devices showing energy usage will yield annual savings of £23 remain unproven.
Faulty meter readings
Ruth Kerry has had problems with her smart meter ever since it was fitted in October last year.
She agreed to have it fitted by her energy supplier First Utility after being convinced by TV advertising that showed a switch might help her save money.
The 62-year-old civil servant, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, says: ‘It has never worked properly – misreading my gas use by hundreds of extra pounds and not even picking up my electricity readings.
Smart home online energy control concept displaying an energy consumption and efficiency
‘I was fobbed off with ridiculous excuses – such as my furniture interfering with the wireless signal being transmitted from the meter. I was told to move the wicker sofa in my conservatory where the meter was fitted as this might stop the problem. It was utter nonsense.’
She adds: ‘The final straw was when I went on holiday to Australia for Christmas and the house was left empty not using any energy. But a subsequent bill indicated I had used £200 worth of gas. I then demanded the smart meter be removed.
‘It will now take a dawn raid by the SAS to have one reinstalled in my home.’
First Utility removed the smart meter in August and paid Ruth £150 as a goodwill gesture for all the inconvenience she had suffered.
A First Utility spokesperson says: ‘The problem stemmed from the signal strength at her property not being strong enough to send readings – so we reverted to estimated readings based on industry data. We have apologised for her experience and have now changed her unit back to a standard meter.’
Smart guide to new meters
MUST I HAVE ONE?
No. There is no obligation to have a smart meter fitted. Firms often grind customers down with letters, phone calls and texts – but just say no. A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman confirms: ‘Let us be totally clear – smart meters are not compulsory.’
CAN I GO BACK TO A TRADITIONAL METER?
If you already have a smart meter and regret the decision, ask to have it turned off at no extra cost. It then becomes what is termed a ‘dumb’ meter. You are then responsible for meter readings or must rely on estimated bills.
SHOULD I DELAY?
The roll-out is a mess. The second generation of smart meters – known as SMETS 2 – will kick in next year when you will be able to switch supplier without the need to change your meter as is the case now. So it is much better to delay a decision.
ARE THERE ANY BENEFITS?
An end to estimated bills as the meter can be read remotely. Also, a device showing how much energy is being used – and the cost. A spokesman for industry regulator Ofgem says: ‘Choosing not to have a smart meter installed may mean you do not get access to all available tariffs.’
Bully boy sales tactics
Many customers say they were told they had no choice but to accept the gadgets. Others say they are being bullied with daily ‘friendly reminders’ made by phone, letter and text aimed at grinding them down until they cave in.
Another underhand tactic being adopted by suppliers such as Eon is to offer cheaper tariffs to those that agree to have a smart meter fitted. It is effectively a bribe.
The reason energy suppliers are so keen to install these new meters is that watchdog Ofgem is insisting everyone is offered one by 2020 – otherwise suppliers could be fined as much as ten per cent of their annual revenue, leading to multi-million pound penalties.
Unexpected extra costs
Peter and Maureen Richardson believe the smart meter programme has already cost them £750 – on top of the £420 that every home is paying for the meters to be installed.
Retired engineer Peter, from Tredington in Warwickshire, says: ‘In July last year, without warning, a gentleman from First Utility knocked on our door and told us he was going to fit a smart meter.
‘But he ended up just changing our meter with a newer traditional one.
‘The following month First Utility phoned explaining every home had to be fitted with a smart meter and I would be getting one.
‘An engineer and his supervisor came in October to fit it. They said the one fitted in the summer had failed.’
But the biggest shock was when they were told there was a problem with a gas pipe in their home and that the fuse box needed replacing as a matter of urgency.
Both were deemed safety hazards that could lead to a fire. They spent £750 getting a local handyman to address the problems, only to then be plagued with repeated power cuts as the fuses blew.
Peter, 79, says: ‘The fuses even went when the turkey was in the oven on Christmas Day.’
First Utility sent the couple a cheque for £100 as a goodwill gesture but Peter and Maureen, 74, rue the day they allowed a smart meter to be fitted.
A First Utility spokesman says: ‘Engineers have a duty of care to provide safety advice.’
Campaign: The Mail on Sunday has consistently led the way on the shortfalls of the smart meter technology
Overcharging on bills
John Burrows was told he had no choice but to have a smart meter fitted after EDF Energy made a billing mistake. Yet not only did the new meter not work – but he was then overbilled.
John, from Allhallows in Kent, is hard of hearing. His partner Val Worsley says: ‘We knew something was wrong when John left the home empty for 20 days with only the fridge freezer left on, yet the meter was still whirling around. An engineer said it was over-reading by 6.8 per cent.
‘Another smart meter was then put in and thankfully the bills have now fallen.’
The first smart meter was only put in after EDF Energy stopped taking direct debit payments from John’s bank account, resulting in a bill for £800. This was reduced to £470 – with a further £70 taken off as a ‘gesture of goodwill’.
EDF Energy said it was ‘rare’ for a smart meter to over-read.
Have you got a story about smart meters? Email Toby.Walne@mailonsunday.co.uk
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online