Government must 'get a grip' on smart roll-outJohn Healey MP challenges smart meter plans

24 April 2012

Smart meter stopwatch

In a parliamentary debate on smart meters, John Healey MP urged the government to 'get a grip on the smart meter roll-out' and repeated Which?'s call for a stop and review, after he warned of a lack of control over costs and consumer problems.

Mr Healey highlighted that there were emerging problems with the roll-out of smart gas and electricity meters that 'could irrevocably damage' the programme if they aren't addressed.

The government wants every home in Great Britain to have a smart meter by the year 2020. Smart meters will give consumers more accurate energy bills, and enable them to monitor their usage to save energy and money.

However, the will be added to customer bills, so the MP was keen to stress that the government should keep a tight control on the costs of the programme.

He added: 'If the government gets this wrong, it could end up starting badly, failing to finish, and costing the consumer dearly.'

Stop and review the smart roll-out

In January, Which? called on the government to , highlighting problems with the cost of the programme, which is already estimated to cost more than £11 billion.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: 'The government must not write a blank cheque on behalf of every energy customer, especially at a time when millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.'

Which? is also concerned about a lack of consumer protection, and consumer feedback on Which? Conversation has shown that there could be serious problems with consumer trust.

Consumer views on smart meters

In the debate in the commons, Mr Healey highlighted the problem of consumer confidence. Pointing to the digital switchover as an example of good practice, he suggested that the government's 'hands-off policy' risks the future of smart meters.

He quoted 'cautionary tales' of other smart meter roll-outs in Australia, the Netherlands and the state of California, which led to failure because of a 'collapse of consumer confidence'.

Energy minister, Charles Hendry, sent a letter to all MPs regarding the smart meter roll-out ahead of the debate. He agreed consumer confidence was important.

He said: 'An effective consumer engagement strategy will be needed .... which will help them understand how to use their smart meters, and better manage their consumption.'

He added: 'We are absolutely putting consumers' interests at the heart of the roll-out, because for us that is integral to its success.'

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