Smart meters explained
Smart meter problems and how to solve them
By Sarah Ingrams
Article 4 of 4
Smart meter problems and solutions
We reveal the most common problems we hear about from customers with smart meters, plus tips on how to solve them.
There are two types of smart meter: first and second generation. The type you have depends mainly on when you had it fitted.
Issues with smart-meter installation and functionality have come to light during various stages of the smart meter roll-out. Here we’ve listed some of those we’ve heard about, how common they are, and what you can do about them.
So far, most of the smart meters installed are first-generation meters. But several million second-generation meters have now been installed, which should not have many of these issues.
Common smart-meter problems and how to fix them
Over 17m first-generation smart meters are fitted in homes so far – over 7m more than the original target, according to the National Audit Office. So, at this stage, it’s much more likely you have this type.
So we asked hundreds of Which? members who have smart meters if they had experienced any problems with their meter or in-home display. Smart Energy GB, the smart meter consumer-information campaign, gave us its tips on how best to solve them.
If you’re having problems with your smart meter, click on the links below to find out what you can do:
- My smart meter turned dumb when I switched supplier
- It’s tricky to get a meter reading
- My energy supplier cannot get meter readings
- My in-home display doesn’t connect to the smart meter
- Smart meters don’t work with solar panels
- My bills are inaccurate with my smart meter
- My home has no mobile network access
- Can my supplier switch my meter to prepayment?
- My gas and electricity meters are hard to access
- Do smart meters give off radiation?
Depending on which company you switch to, you may not lose your smart functionality. Check with your chosen supplier before you switch. If you do lose smart functionality, you’ll have to send meter readings to your energy firm for a while.
Some 70% of smart meters lose smart functions when consumers switch, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Which? research also found that three in 10 people found that both their smart meter and in-home display stopped working when they switched supplier. One in five said their smart meter stopped working. Just two in five found that both the smart meter and in-home display worked after switching.*
If your smart meter is no longer smart
It’s now possible to connect some first-generation meters to the same wireless network used by second-generation meters. This means that smart functions will be restored and retained when you switch supplier. Energy companies begun connecting meters in the summer of 2019, and there are plans for most to be upgraded in this way. Here's when upgrades will become possible for different brands, according to Smart DCC. From these dates, companies have 12 months to upgrade the meters.
- From end of June 2019 (delayed from 29 May as testing wasn't complete): Aclara, some Honeywell Elster meters and some Itron meters
- From 30 September 2019: some Honeywell Elster meters, Secure meters
- From 12 December 2019: some Landis+Gyr meters, some EDMI meters
The manufacturer is usually printed on the meter’s case.
You don’t need to do anything to get your meter upgraded; it will be done wirelessly and automatically.
In November 2019, around 4,500 ‘dumb’ first-generation smart meters were connected to the wireless network, the DCC announced. Only two of these didn’t work and had to be replaced. ‘Dumb’ meters will be prioritised and all should have been transferred to the wireless network by the end of 2020.
If your first-generation smart meter still works, it will be connected to the network by mid 2021.
If your meter cannot be upgraded, it will be replaced by the end of the roll-out instead.
If your smart meter is working and you want to switch
It’s possible to switch supplier with your first-generation smart meter and keep it smart.
Some companies can operate first-generation smart meters from rival suppliers even if they haven’t been connected to the central wireless network yet. This may be because they use compatible technology or the same brand of meter, or have agreements in place. We spoke to 10 of the biggest energy firms:
- British Gas can operate smart meters from Co-operative Energy, EDF, Scottish Power, Spark Energy and SSE.
- Bulb says it can operate ‘a proportion of meters across a range of suppliers’.
- Ovo Energy and Utilita can operate and Secure-branded smart meters.
- EDF Energy, Eon, Npower and SSE told us they can’t currently operate first-generation meters from any other firms.
Switching and staying smart doesn’t necessarily work in both directions, though, so check with a new supplier before you switch. If your potential new supplier isn’t listed here, check that it will be able to get automatic meter readings from your first-generation smart meter before you go ahead.
Ovo Energy and Utilita both told us that they’ll replace smart meters that they can't operate. In fact, a third of smart-meter owners who had switched supplier told us that their new firm replaced their smart meter,* so other companies might be willing to fit you a new smart meter if they can't operate your current one.
Check if your energy supplier is having connectivity issues. You may need to submit meter readings to ensure you’re billed accurately while problems are resolved.
Most problems should be resolved when all smart meters use the DCC wireless network, covering 99.25% of Great Britain.
If your first-generation smart meter stopped working when you switched supplier, read the section above about what to do if your smart meter turned dumb when you switched supplier.
The displays work best when close to the smart meter. If your meters are inaccessible or outside, ask your energy supplier for advice. Check if your in-home display has a flat battery or is unplugged. Check the instruction booklet for troubleshooting tips, and contact your energy supplier if the problem persists.
Smart meters need to be able to connect via a wireless network to your in-home display so you can see how much energy you’re using. A ‘hub’ is installed with your smart meter (often built in to the meter) to do this.
The current hubs will work in around 70% of properties, according to government research. If your home is particularly large, or you live in a high-rise or low-rise flat (where your in-home display is some distance from the smart meter), it’s more likely that the current hub won’t work.
A new hub is being developed (called Alt HAN) which should work in the remaining 3-6% of homes and expected to be available for installation in 2021.
We’ve heard from members with solar panels who have been refused a smart meter, and from others who have had a smart meter installed that doesn't work with their solar panels.
The government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told us that all smart (SMETS) meters can measure energy consumed (imported) and exported back into the grid.
Smart Energy GB states that in-home displays will show how much energy you’re buying from your supplier, but not necessarily energy you generate. (Solar panel owners already have a PV-generation meter that tells them how much electricity their system is generating.)
Find out more about solar panels and if they're right for your home.
EDF says it has installed smart meters for customers with solar panels. British Gas, Ovo Energy and Utilita told us that they are also able to install smart meters at homes with solar panels. SSE is able to install, but advises customers to wait until technical constraints are resolved.
Neither Eon nor Npower were installing smart meters for customers with solar panels when we last asked. Eon planned to do so, following industry-wide technical problems in the earlier stages of the roll-out which have now been resolved.
Scottish Power told us it could not share this commercially sensitive information with us.
If you have solar panels and are offered a smart meter, make sure your supplier is aware. Check whether your smart meter and in-home display will work fully with them.
Very few people we’ve heard from are concerned about inaccurate bills once they’ve had their smart meter fitted. In fact, those who have had their smart meter for more than two years were more likely to rate their bills as accurate, compared with those who had a smart meter more recently.* A smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier automatically, so your bills should be more accurate.
If you had a faulty old meter, or did not submit meter readings and got estimated bills, you may find that your payments change. If your meter was faulty, an energy company can charge you retrospectively for the previous year if you have paid too little.
If you've paid too much, your supplier has to refund you for the whole period that the meter was faulty. Find out how to check if you have a faulty energy meter.
However, if you're concerned that your bills are wrong, or your smart meter is showing an error message, contact your supplier. It is responsible for making sure your meter works properly. If it can't resolve the issue remotely, it should send someone round to take a look.
Smart meters need to be able to connect to the Data Communications Company (DCC) through a wireless network. At the beginning of the roll-out, the DCC was required to connect to 80% of British households. So there will be homes that won't be able to access the DCC network, and these homes won't be able to use a smart meter.
Nationwide coverage will increase to 99.25% by the end of the roll-out in 2021, when all meters are connected to the full DCC network.
If there's any doubt that your home may not have coverage, make sure you get a pre-installation visit to confirm this.
Suppliers sometimes install prepayment meters for customers who are in debt. With smart meters, it's possible for energy suppliers to switch your meter into prepayment mode remotely.
There was a threefold increase in suppliers switching customers’ smart meters from credit mode to prepayment mode to repay a debt between 2017 and 2018, according to Ofgem. In 2018, 70,000 smart meters were remotely changed to prepayment, compared with 21,000 meters in 2017.
Energy firms are only allowed to switch customers to prepay for energy where they have checked that it's appropriate to do so. But Ofgem says it's ‘concerned that come suppliers may be remotely switching smart meters to prepayment mode to collect debt inappropriately and without the customer’s active choice’.
Your energy supplier must give you seven days’ notice before it switches your smart meter to prepayment mode. If you think your supplier has moved you to prepayment unfairly, you should complain to it first.
If the issue isn’t resolved after eight weeks, you can take your complaint to the energy ombudsman.
Ofgem is monitoring what companies are doing.
If your meter is in a small cupboard or another confined space, then a technician may struggle to install your smart meter. They may ask you to dismantle the cupboard or move other obstacles to reach the meter.
If your meter is partly concealed in a case outside, then your energy company may not be able to replace it yet. We’ve heard from members whose energy firms aren’t yet replacing these ‘semi-concealed’ meters.
If your meter is positioned very high up, make sure you let your energy company know, so it’s prepared.
Find out more about getting smart meters installed.
Some people have complained about the impact of smart meters on their health, in particular those suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
The evidence to date suggests that exposure to radio waves produced by smart meters does not pose a risk to health.
A 2017 study of a selection of smart meters available in Great Britain found that exposure to radio waves from smart meters is below guidelines set by the international body for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
It also found that smart meters expose people to radio waves less than mobile phones and wi-fi equipment.
*Online survey in September 2018 of 2,910 members of the GB general public who have smart meters.