Rolled out by many energy companies, smart meters replace your normal energy meter. There's a fair bit of confusion around them, however – and we'll try to clear it up in this guide!
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What is a smart meter?
A smart meter replaces your normal energy meter. Smart meters keep track of what you’re using and show you how much you currently owe in pounds and pence.
With a smart meter, you won’t have to take any meter readings manually. The smart meter automatically sends readings to your energy supplier. Smart meters communicate this information with a national network to get it to your supplier.
Getting a smart meter means that you may be eligible for a wider range of tariffs that aren’t available to people with a regular meter. If you want to switch supplier to take advantage of a cheaper tariff, you can!
The smart meter rollout means that every energy supplier should install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland by 2020.
Do I have to have a smart meter?
The short answer is no, you don’t!
While energy companies are obliged to offer them to you, you don’t have to have one installed if you feel like a smart meter wouldn’t benefit you (or if getting one installed will be too much hassle). Even if you don’t want one installed now, you can still get one put in for free if you change your mind later.
You could also consider having a smart meter set with the ‘smart’ functionality turned off, so that it will operate exactly like a bog-standard meter. This way, you won’t have to go through the trouble of getting one installed at a later data if you change your mind.
Do I have to pay to have a smart meter installed?
You shouldn’t have to pay for a smart meter to be installed. If you live in rented accommodation, you should ask your landlord before getting a smart meter installed. They should be OK with it, but there may be something in your tenancy agreement that stops you from getting the meter installed. Always double-check beforehand!
Prepay meters and smart meters
If you already have a prepay meter installed, you can have your smart meter set to prepay mode. This means you’ll no longer need to access your meter to top it up. You’ll be able to see how much credit you have left via your in-home display and top-up online, via telephone or text message, or even with a smartphone app. If you have a smart meter, you will still be sent regular energy bills in the usual manner (normally by post or online).
Can suppliers cut you off?
Regardless of whether you have a smart meter or not, you’re protected by strict regulations against your energy supplier cutting off your energy. Your energy supplier can only cut you off if you haven’t contacted them for 28 days after incurring a debt – and they have to contact you before they cut off your supply. Your supplier has to give you the opportunity to pay off your debt before they disconnect you.
Your energy supplier isn’t allowed to disconnect you during the winter months if you are of pensionable age, have a long-term medical condition, disability, or illness, or are in a vulnerable situation.
You also can’t be disconnected if your debt is owed to a previous supplier, you have been made bankrupt and the debt was incurred before you went bankrupt, or the debt is not for the gas or electricity you have used but for another service or appliance you have bought from your supplier.
Are smart meters bad for my health?
Don’t worry – smart meters probably aren’t bad for your health.
Smart meters use radio waves to communicate their readings with a network. The evidence to date says that exposure to the radio waves produced by a smart meter doesn’t pose a risk to your health. Studies show that the level of radio waves produced by a smart meter is far lower than the level produced by mobile phones and Wi-Fi equipment, so there’s no need to panic.
Always remember that there have been studies of people whose jobs involve high exposure to radio waves (like people who work on telephone masts and radar equipment), and these studies have found no clear increase in cancer risk (according to the American Cancer Society).
If you’re still concerned about a potential risk to your health, you can always refuse to have a smart meter installed. The scheme is optional, and you shouldn’t feel forced to have one put in.
Is my information safe with a smart meter?
There have been scares in the past about the potential for hackers to gain access to smart meters to tamper with boilers on a national scale. While this is technically possible, the chance of it happening is very low.
Does getting a smart meter chain me to an energy supplier?
No – you should be able to switch supplier even with a smart meter to take advantage of cheaper tariffs if you want to. Be aware that some energy suppliers will not be backwards compatible with first gen smart meters. Always check with your energy provider before switching!
You should be able to switch suppliers if you want to!
What if I already have a smart meter and want to switch energy provider?
This is where problems can start for many consumers. If you’ve had a smart meter installed in the past and plan to change providers, you should check with your current energy provider to see which generation of smart meter they installed.
There are two generations of smart meters circulating – first gen and second gen. If you have had a first gen meter installed and switch to an energy provider that uses second gen meters, your current meter might not be compatible with their systems.
If this happens, your new energy provider should install a new, compatible smart meter for free – but this may take them some time.
Unfortunately, sometimes things can go wrong with smart meters. We’ve heard reports of smart meters saying consumers are due to pay thousands of pounds over what they’d expect, and this is often down to a smart meter error.
Additionally, your smart meter may be affected if you live in an area with poor mobile signal. Check with your energy provider before getting one installed, as your smart meter will be useless if it can’t connect to the energy provider’s network!
If you're having problems with your smart meter, the best plan is to get in touch with your energy provider. They should be able to help you sort any problems out.
Can my energy provider use my smart meter to cut me off remotely?
While it is possible for an energy company to cut you off remotely via a smart meter, most have said that they will never do so without an engineer visiting your property.
It is very rare for energy providers to disconnect customers. British Gas had said that it hasn’t disconnected a residential customer in almost eight years.
Your supplier will have access to the daily data from your smart meter to compile your bills, but they need to get your consent to access further data (or if they want to use it for marketing purposes).
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