Do I have to accept a smart meter?

Your energy supplier has contacted you and told you it wants to change your current electricity meter to a smart meter, can you refuse it? Read our guide to find out.

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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.

Smart meters and the 'In Home Display' that comes with them should also help you better understand your consumption and how you can reduce it. 

Smart meters will also be the new platform for Time of Use Tariffs - where people pay more for electricity use at different times of the day, such as those on Economy 7. 

Because smart meters will track energy use regularly throughout the day, these tariffs are expected to become more common as more smart meters are installed. 

Smart meters will also enable 'smart grids'. A smart grid uses information and communications technology to monitor and control electricity generation and demand in near real-time. 

The energy network operators will be able to use smart meter data to better plan and manage the UK's energy supply, matching supply and demand in a more efficient system. 

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

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. 

In summary

  • Having a smart meter is not mandatory
  • There's a risk that if you get a smart meter before the official roll-out that you'd have to get your smart meter upgraded
  • It's also likely that if you wanted to switch energy suppliers before the official roll-out, you wouldn't be able to use your meter in its smart mode and it might need to be replaced again
  • 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

What if I accept a smart meter now?

The official national smart meter roll-out across England, Wales and Scotland will start in April 2016 and finish in 2020. 

But some energy companies have already started to install smart meters even though they 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 get a smart meter before the official roll-out, your meter would later need to be upgraded, although this should not require a visit to your home. 

It's also likely that if you want to switch energy supplier before the official roll-out, you wouldn't be able to use your meter in its smart mode and it might even need to be replaced again. 

Some energy providers have started installing smart prepayment meters. Check with your energy provider to see if they are one of the companies doing so.  

Whether you can have a smart meter ahead of the official roll out depends on your type of property and whether your supplier is rolling out smart meters in your area. 

If your supplier is rolling out smart meters in your area and you would like one, make sure you get an In Home Display as this enables you to see your energy use and work out how to reduce it.  

Can I refuse a smart meter?

Yes you can, especially now that the official roll-out hasn't even started. Smart meters are not mandatory. 

Even once the official roll-out starts in April 2016, 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.

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