Smart meters are a new version of your household electricity meter. But do you have to accept one if your energy supplier offers you one?
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters are meters that record your household energy use.
They are 'smart' because they will provide information about the energy you use directly to you or your supplier without anyone having to read the meter, which should mean no more estimated bills.
The official national smart meter roll-out across England, Wales and Scotland started in April 2016 and will finish in 2020.
The communications network that will enable smart meters to connect with suppliers, network operators and energy service companies, is still to be rolled-out. We're waiting to hear when this will happen.
Smart meters installed beforehand will still be able to feed data to your energy supplier but may need to be updated once the communication network is up and running, especially if you want to switch supplier.
Read our guide on how smart meters work for more information.
Concerns with smart meters
Some people have concerns about:
- Estimated cost Estimated at £11bn, this will ultimately be passed on to customers
- Security & privacy Who can see your consumption data and what can they do with it?
- Health Concerns about radio frequencies and electrico-magnetic radiations produced. The evidence to date suggests exposure to radio waves produced by smart meters doesn't pose a risk to your health. Public Health England provides advice and information on the health implications of smart meters, which can be found on the PHE website.
Which? is concerned at how the government is handling the smart meter roll-out.
As the roll-out will cost so much, we think the government needs to put in place tighter controls to ensure that suppliers pass on all their cost savings to their customers and that customers aren't left out of pocket if costs spiral.
We also think there are several ways in which the roll-out cost could be reduced.
If your energy company has contacted you to change to a smart meter because your current meter needs replacing, it could be a safety hazard not to. But if you really don't want a smart meter, tell your supplier and they will probably offer to install a smart meter set up to work with all the communications switched off.
What if I accepted a smart meter before the roll-out?
Prior to April 2016, some energy companies installed smart meters that don't meet the final smart meter specifications.
These early meters may not have all the functions of the later ones.
So, there's a risk that if you got a smart meter before the official roll-out, your meter may need to be upgraded. Check with your energy provider to see if you're affected.
Can I refuse a smart meter?
Even now the official roll-out has started, and although energy companies have been asked to take 'all reasonable steps' to install smart meters in every home, you should still be able to refuse a smart meter.
But beware that if your energy company has contacted you to change your energy meter to a smart meter because your current meter needs replacing (ie it's too old), then you should get it replaced as it could be a safety hazard not to.
If you really don't want a smart meter, tell your supplier and they will probably offer to install a 'dumb' meter or a smart meter set up to work in 'dumb' mode with all the communications switched off.
A government code of practice, rolled out in July 2013, sets out the minimum standards that energy suppliers have to follow when installing smart meters into customer's homes.
The code allows you to make choices on how much data your energy supplier collects from your smart meter, whether your supplier shares details about your energy consumption with other organisations, and whether your supplier can use your meter readings for sales and marketing purposes.
For more information, contact your energy supplier.