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A third of smart meter users hit problems, says uSwitch

Steve Rogerson
September 4, 2019

Nearly a third of UK smart meter owners have encountered issues with their devices since their units were installed, with problems ranging from from meters going dumb to displays breaking, according to a report from price comparison company uSwitch.
And a fifth of households say they have been offered first-generation meters since March, despite the government and energy watchdog Ofgem saying they should be installing second-generation devices after that date.
More than half of homes believe their supplier didn’t fully explain the benefits of their meter prior to installation, although this marks an improvement on 61% who didn’t receive a full explanation last year. Despite this, 29% say that owning a smart meter has helped decrease their energy bills, up from 16% in 2018.
This has prompted a call by uSwitch to explain smart meters more clearly to their customers and only offer them second-generation smart meters.
With just over a year to go until the deadline passes for installing smart meters across the UK, around four million smart meter owners are running into problems with their devices, according to the report.
Nearly a third (31%) of households with smart meters have reported device issues since installation, with problems ranging from smart displays not working (39%) and devices going dumb after switching (32%), to meters ceasing to function entirely (13%). And a third (33%) of households with second-generation meters – which were not expected to experience technical problems – have also encountered issues since they were installed.
Disconcertingly, one in five (20%) smart meter owners say they have been offered a first-generation smart meter since March. Energy suppliers haven’t been able to count first-generation meters towards their installation targets since this date and should be rolling out second-generation meters instead, as these devices are supposed to remain in smart mode no matter to which energy supplier a household switches.
Most smart meter owners (53%) are also still in the dark about their benefits, with over half saying their supplier didn’t fully explain the advantages of owning one before it was installed, but knowledge has improved since last year when 61% didn’t receive a proper explanation.
More than a fifth (22%) of homes still report feeling pressured by their supplier into taking a smart meter, though this is fewer than the 30% who felt this way in 2018. Five per cent said their supplier tried to install a meter without their permission, but this is a reduction on the 11% experiencing this a year ago.
Despite these problems, 29% of homes say that owning a smart meter has helped reduce energy bills, up from 16% last year. Two thirds of households (67%) also say their device has made them more aware of how much energy they use, compared with just over a quarter (28%) in 2018.
This awareness has helped galvanise better energy saving habits in some areas: 38% say they now turn off lights when they aren’t in the room compared with 33% in 2018, and 22% now wash clothes at a lower temperature, up from 18% last year. In fact, smart meter owners say changing their habits has helped them save around £108 a year on average.
“While it’s great to see smart meters improving energy habits and helping consumers to save on their bills, there are still far too many issues with the rollout which are damaging consumer confidence in the whole scheme,” said Rik Smith, energy expert at uSwitch. “There is a real opportunity to build more confidence in smart meters now, if households are given the right information to make the most of their new device, and if they’re only offered a second-generation meter which shouldn’t go dumb if someone switches supplier.”
He said it was wrong that people were still being offered first-generation meters, despite the legacy of them going wrong and the risk they would go dumb when someone changed to a different provider. The lack of clarity, he said, around when these devices would work seamlessly with multiple suppliers was losing the scheme the advocates it desperately needed.
“Energy companies should only be offering second-generation meters to their customers, which will give them peace of mind that it should stay smart if they switch,” he said.
Research was conducted online by Opinium between July 26 and August 1, 2019, among 2011 UK adults who have a smart meter.