Opinion: don’t want a smart meter installed? Good luck with that!

My experience has highlighted how suppliers can keep harassing you to get a meter installed – and the regulator is on board with the practice.

Let me just start by saying I am not against smart meters. I can see some benefit in the bigger picture, and I completely support any efforts to reduce our energy waste.

That said, I don’t particularly want one in our new home. 

But I’ve found that getting suppliers to stop contacting me and wait for me to request a meter is near impossible.

It seems if you don’t want one, for whatever reason, you have to resign yourself to a barrage of calls, texts and emails until you finally succumb.

What's more, it’s only likely to get worse.

Why I’d rather wait, thanks

Here’s why I’m not keen on a smart meter just yet.

The energy bills in our new house are already really low, it’s well insulated and we feel we have a pretty good idea on how to minimise energy waste.

I’m also put off by the track record of installations to date.

From early adopters finding their meters stopped working when they switched energy suppliers to ongoing issues where households still have to provide manual meter readings… there’s clearly room for improvement.

Citizens Advice conducted a survey which found that around 80% of households are happy with their smart meter, which is not bad, but it still means one in five aren’t.

It’s why the charity received 3,000 smart meter complaints in 2017 alone.

Just do a search online for smart meter complaints and you’ll find loads of examples of how things can go wrong – and take ages to fix.

I’d quite like things to improve a little more before getting the engineers in.

Why suppliers are getting desperate

As you’ll know, energy suppliers have been told they need to take all justifiable steps to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales & Scotland by 2020.

But the chances of hitting that deadline are getting slimmer by the day: late last year, consumer site Which? said suppliers would have to triple their installation rate to hit it.

“The smart meter rollout has been plagued by problems and been massively delayed, the benefits have been overstated and the savings they could bring consumers are at risk,” a Which? spokesperson added.

With the chances of hitting the target diminishing, Citizens Advice has called on the Government to extend the deadline from next year to 2023.

“A rush to install meters to hit the 2020 deadline risks giving customers a poor experience and undermining people’s faith in this important technology,” Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said in 2018.

At present, the deadline stands, and suppliers seem to be resorting to increasingly desperate measures to reach it.

My experience with the hard sell

Messages I received about smart meters (Image: Shutterstock)When we moved into our new home last year, I quickly switched to a cheaper energy deal that happened to be with Scottish Power.

Despite being clear upfront I didn’t want to be contacted about anything other than account issues, I was constantly sent emails and texts (like the ones to the side) relating to smart meter installation.

The contact didn’t stop until I switched to British Gas.

Although it’s only been a few weeks, it’s clear the aggressive tactics aren’t restricted to just one supplier.

After finally answering one of many calls from British Gas, the person on the other line made it sound a lot like I had to get a meter installed.

After explaining that I was aware of the requirements on suppliers and that I found their messaging misleading, I was left with a promise that they’d noted my desire not to have a meter installed.

Two days later, the below email landed in my inbox.

Titled “Let us know when you’re ready for your upgrade”, it was British Gas once more, explaining that they knew I didn’t want a smart meter, then proceeded to trot out the same reasons as to why I should get one.

British Gas email sent to me (Image: Damian - loveMONEY)

What does the regulator make of all this?

At this point I contacted Ofgem, the energy regulator, to find out what it makes of Scottish Power and British Gas’ antics, which seemingly entailed ignoring my wishes not to be contacted.

While a spokesperson declined to comment on specific cases, they did add: “We expect suppliers to recontact people who have said they don’t want a smart meter after an appropriate period of time as people’s circumstances change, and they may have changed their mind.

“It, however, remains the customer’s choice as to whether to accept.”

In other words, you don’t have to get one installed, but you can’t ask to stop being contacted about it either.

What do the energy suppliers say?

I asked the British Gas press office whether they thought waiting a couple of days before contacting me again about smart meters constituted an “appropriate period of time” to wait since I'd initially said no.

I also asked whether there was anything a customer who didn’t have and didn’t want a meter could do in order to never be contacted about smart meters.

I put that same question to the Scottish Power press team as well. At the time of publishing, neither have responded to my questions.

More to come?

There are bigger issues in the world than companies being overly aggressive in their communications.

And we should, of course, acknowledge that this pressure is coming from the Government.

But it still sticks in the throat that, while I don’t officially need a smart meter, the reality is I’m going to be badgered until I come round to the idea. 

Do you have a smart meter installed? Has it saved you money? Am I wrong to fight against the tide on this? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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