New Which? research reveals more than half of people are finding their devices turn “dumb” when they switch, raising serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Government’s smart meter rollout programme.
The consumer champion found that for almost six in 10 (58%) of those surveyed either their smart meter, their in-home display, or both stopped working when they switched energy supplier.
More than 13.5 million smart meters have been installed in the UK and a quarter of homes have had one of the devices fitted. The vast majority of these are first-generation (SMETS1) meters, while around half a million advanced second-generation (SMETS2) devices have been installed.
First-generation smart meters can go “dumb” when a customer switches – meaning they stop sending automatic meter readings, or the in-home display showing energy usage in pounds and pence stops working properly.
In Which?’s survey of energy customers who have tried to change supplier after getting a smart meter, only two in five people (42%) said they were able to switch without any problems.
A third of people (32%) who switched after getting a smart meter said their new supplier replaced their smart meter – but Which? has received reports of energy customers whose replacement device also stopped working.
Switching energy deals is the most effective way for customers to save money on gas and electricity or find a supplier that provides better customer service.
But a large proportion of first-generation smart meter customers face problems if they try to switch – and the prospect of a long wait before their device can be connected to a new system that should remove the risk of meters going “dumb”.
Which?’s survey also found that a third (34%) of people said their energy consumption had gone down since getting a smart meter. However one in five (20%) thought that their usage had actually increased since having a device fitted.
Many other customers also had positive things to say about smart meters. More than seven in 10 (72%) of those with a smart meter rated their supplier good or excellent at helping them understand and reduce their energy use, compared with just over three in five (63%) of those without smart meters.
Which? believes the Government needs to ensure customers are not shut out from the benefits of using a smart meter and switching supplier hassle-free to get a better deal.
As a step towards achieving that, a consultation launched this week – on solutions for customers with first-generation devices who still have no fix in sight – must urgently be turned into a clear plan of action for upgrades to take place. The Government and Smart Data Communications Company (DCC) must not drag their heels and leave consumers waiting even longer for solutions.
Which? is also calling for ministers to clarify how they will ensure that suppliers will pass on projected savings from smart meters to consumers, and shield them from bearing an excessive financial burden should the costs of the rollout soar further.
A realistic deadline should also be set for smart meter installations, with proper planning so that the rollout of the second-generation smart meters – which is long overdue – is less vulnerable to technical difficulties.
Sarah Threadgould, Which? Chief Customer Officer, said:
“Consumers need reassurance that the smart meter rollout will bring greater convenience and a fairer energy market – not just hassle and soaring costs funded by their bills.
“The Government needs to outline clear solutions for millions of people stuck with smart meters that risk cutting them out of the benefits of being able to monitor their energy use and use this information to switch to a better deal.
“For now, our advice is for energy customers with a first-generation meter not to be discouraged from switching, as they could still save money, despite the risk of their meter going ‘dumb’.”
For a checklist of solutions to problems with smart meters, including if they go “dumb”, visit: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/smart-meter-problems-and-solutions
Paul Lockett, 50, from Cheshire said:
“Infuriatingly I’ve been through two smart meters, three suppliers and still don’t have a smart meter which functions properly. I’m told vaguely that I can expect one which will work with other suppliers ‘in the future’ but it is unclear when and I want to hold off for as long as possible so I don’t get caught out again.”
Notes to editors
- Which? carried out an online survey in September 2018 of 2,910 members of the general public with smart meters, as part of its annual energy companies satisfaction survey of 7,429 GB customers.
- Which? research reveals that 29 per cent of smart meter owners who have switched supplier found that both it and the in-home display (IHD) stopped working. Some 19 per cent found just the smart meter stopped working, and 11 per cent found just the IHD stopped working. Just 42 per cent switched without any of these problems.
- Several companies, including British Gas, EDF, Npower, Ovo and SSE, told Which? that they’re already installing second-generation meters at scale.
- BEIS open consultation on the enrolment of Secure SMETS1 meters in the Data Communications Company (DCC): https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/enrolment-of-secure-smets1-meters-in-the-data-communications-company-dcc
- The smart meter rollout is expected to cost the average dual-fuel household an extra £391 overall on their energy bills, whether they have a smart meter or not, according to a report from the National Audit Office. That figure could rise further when the Government publishes a new smart meter cost-benefit analysis in July. National Audit Office ‘Rolling out smart meters’ November 2018 report: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Rolling-out-smart-meters.pdf
- BEIS Q3 2018 Smart Meters report – published 29 November 2018 – Which? calculated that large energy suppliers installed just 8.6 meters per minute. This is down from 9.7 meters per minute in Q2 2018. They would need to fit more than 30 per minute to provide all households and small businesses with smart meters by the end of 2020.
- A solution is in the pipeline to restore smart functionality to two thirds of first-generation smart meters, starting from May 2019. Smart DCC has revealed that the first group of meters able to be upgraded will include Aclara, Honeywell Elster and Itron meters operated by CGI IE.
- Which? was told by Smart DCC around half a million second-generation meters have also been fitted, which do allow energy customers to switch without risk of losing smart functionality.
- Customers looking for cheaper energy deals can compare deals with Which? Switch, a transparent and impartial way to compare energy tariffs and find the best gas and electricity supplier.