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19 October 2020

Smart meter problems and how to solve them

We reveal the most common problems with smart meters we've heard about , plus tips on how to solve them.
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SI
Sarah Ingrams

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.

While at least 5m second-generation meters have now been installed, which should not have many of these issues, many more (over 16m) homes have first-generation smart meters.

Common smart-meter problems and how to fix them

We’ve looked into the most common smart-meter problems and worked with Smart Energy GB, the smart-meter consumer-information campaign, to offer tips on how to solve them.

My smart meter turned dumb when I switched supplier

Depending on which company you switch to, you may not lose your smart functionality. Check with your chosen supplier before you switch. Some 70% of smart meters lose smart functions when consumers switch, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

If you do lose smart functionality, in the short term you’ll have to send meter readings to your energy firm again – they'll stop being sent automatically.

To address this problem, first-generation meters are now being connected to the same wireless network used by second-generation meters. This means that smart functions will be restored and retained when you switch supplier.  You don’t need to do anything to get your meter upgraded; it will be done wirelessly and automatically. 

Energy companies began connecting meters in the summer of 2019, and there are plans for most to be upgraded in this way. The very small number that can't be upgraded will need to be replaced. 

All first-generation smart meters should be connected to the network by the end of 2021; meters that have already lost their smart functionality will be prioritised.

I want to switch energy supplier but I'm worried my smart meter will stop working

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. 

If retaining smart functionality is important to you, check with a new supplier before you switch that it will be able to get automatic meter readings from your first-generation smart meter. Alternatively, it may be willing to replace your existing smart meter with a new one. 

It’s tricky to get a meter reading

Most smart meters have a button to illuminate the digital display so you can read the numbers. Some might require you to press several buttons. 

Some in-home displays (IHDs) let you see your meter readings. Check your instruction booklet or ask your energy supplier for instructions on the best way to get your meter reading.

My energy supplier isn't receiving readings from my smart meter

Check if your energy supplier is having connectivity issues. You might need to submit readings manually 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.

My in-home display doesn’t connect to the smart meter, or stopped working completely

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 into the meter) to do this.

The current hubs will work in most 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), you are more likely to have problems. 

A new hub is being developed (called Alt HAN), which should work in the 3-6% of homes that experience such problems; it's expected to be available for installation in 2021.

The smart meter won’t work with my solar panels

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.)

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.

Find out more about solar panels and if they're right for your  home.

My bills are inaccurate with my smart meter

A smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier automatically, so in principle your bills should be more accurate than when they rely on you submitting manual readings.

If you had a faulty old meter, or did not submit meter readings and got estimated bills, you might 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.

My home has no access to a mobile network

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. This means 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 might not have coverage, make sure you get a pre-installation visit to confirm this.

Can my supplier switch my meter to prepayment?

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.

Energy firms are only allowed to switch customers to prepay for energy where they have checked that it's appropriate to do so. 

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.

My gas and electricity meters are hard to access

If your meter is in a small cupboard or another confined space, then a technician might 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 might 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.

Do smart meters give off radiation?

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.