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Smart Meters

My energy supplier has just contacted me to say they intend to install a smart meter at my house.  I understand this means they can access information about my fuel use directly and this will help make my bills more accurate, but it surely also gives them access to information about me that I may wish to keep private.  Do I have any choice about having a smart meter installed or control over how it is used?

Smart meters are a new type of meter for gas and electricity which will be offered to all British households over the next few years. Smart meters send meter readings directly to your energy supplier and will enable a range of new services, like displays that show you exactly how much energy you’re using and the cost of that energy. Smart meters should mean that manual meter readings, estimated and back-dated bills will become a thing of the past. Smart meters will also allow you access to more detailed information about your personal energy usage which can help with deciding about switching supplier or energy efficiency measures you might wish to take.

Many energy suppliers will start installing smart meters this year.  Some energy suppliers have already begun installing smart (and advanced) meters in their customers’ homes. The main phase of the rollout was due to begin in late 2016, but some energy suppliers are still trialling smart meters and are likely to wait until this year to begin offering them widely.   Your supplier should contact you to tell you exactly when you can get one. If they don’t, you can contact them to ask when it might be.

You can also contact your supplier to see whether they’ll install one in your home early, but they don’t have to.  You might want to shop around and see if any other suppliers can offer you one. If they do, you’ll need to switch supplier.  But be careful if you ask for one early. Some suppliers are not ready to install smart meters that comply with government standards (known as ‘SMETS-compliant’), but are offering similar products. These are sometimes referred to as ‘advanced meters’. If you end up getting one of these you might not get the functionality or services a smart meter has, and you’ll probably have to upgrade to a smart meter later on.  Ask the supplier if the smart meter they’re offering is compliant.  If it’s not, it might be best to wait or speak to other suppliers.

While energy suppliers are obliged to offer smart meters to everyone by 2020, you don’t have to accept one if you don’t want one.  In the future, though, smart meters will be the only option available to replace old meters.  If your supplier tells you that you must have one installed, contact Citizens Advice. However, if you do refuse one, you might find it hard to access all tariffs. This is because in future the cheaper tariffs offered by suppliers might only be available to customers with smart meters.  One option in this case is to have a smart meter installed but ask for its ‘smart’ functionality to be switched off.   This means it’ll work in the same way as your current meter, and won’t send any information to your supplier. You can then easily turn the functionality back on at a later stage.

Energy suppliers are required to offer an In-Home Display (IHD) with your smart meter. The display will show you how much energy you’re using and an approximate cost of that energy. It can also show your past usage and many include a ‘traffic light’ system to tell you when your usage is particularly high or low. Different suppliers will offer different IHDs, so you may want to ask what features yours will come with.  A smart meter won’t automatically save you money, you’ll have to decide on your own steps to reduce your energy costs. The best way to do this will be to use your IHD to keep track of how much energy you’re using. You can then try to reduce it.

You can choose how often energy usage information is sent via your smart meter to your energy supplier. By default, your supplier will be allowed to collect one meter reading per day and they need to tell you if they want to do this. Energy suppliers will have to ask for your consent to collect anything more detailed. You will also be able to choose to share as little as one meter reading a month and change your mind about how much you share at any time. Your energy supplier isn’t allowed to use your smart meter data for marketing purposes unless you give them permission. The detailed data shown on your In-Home Display will remain in your home and your supplier won’t be able to see it unless you give them permission.

The costs of smart meters are going to be paid through everyone’s energy bills, just as current meters are, so there should be no charges when you have one installed. This also means that the cost of smart meters will be shared amongst everyone whether or not you agree to have a smart meter.

Getting a smart meter in the early part of the rollout won’t stop you from being able to switch supplier, but you may lose some ‘smart services’ (for example remote meter reads) for a period of time if you do. Newer models of smart meters that suppliers will start to install should resolve this problem, so you should check with your supplier to confirm what impact switching may have on your particular meter. Eventually all compliant smart meters will be able to switch without any loss of functionality but ones installed earlier may take longer.

Smart meters will be able to work both in ‘credit’ and ‘prepayment’ modes. Because of this, prepayment tariffs should become cheaper in the future. Smart meters will also allow for new ways to top-up your meter by phone, online or through an app in addition to current methods.

You will need one smart meter for gas and another for electricity, so, both meters will be replaced. If you’re a dual-fuel customer, your supplier will aim to install both meters on the same visit to make things as easy as possible.  However, you will only need one In-Home Display to view both your gas and electricity usage. If your gas and electricity accounts are with different suppliers, you will have two separate smart meter installations (one from each of your suppliers).

It is up to you whether you choose to have a smart meter now and access the various benefits they offer immediately or wait until later when newer smart meter models are available that may eliminate the switching issues.

You can get advice from the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Helpline (03454 04 05 06) if you have any issues with smart meters or drop in to your local Citizens Advice office.