- Smart meters show how much power and gas you’re using minute by minute
- Nearly all meters so far installed lose their smart functions if you switch provider
- Some firms are charging people more unless they accept one of the devices
- Some are setting up appointments for customers who haven’t requested them
Dan Hyde, Money Mail Editor For The Daily Mail
Many readers feel intimidated into switching their analogue gas and electricity meters for digital versions
Today, Money Mail launches a campaign to stop energy firms bullying customers into having a smart meter fitted in their homes.
We have been inundated with letters, emails and calls from readers who have felt pressured and intimidated into switching their analogue gas and electricity meters for digital versions.
The new devices — which show how much power and gas you’re using minute by minute and send that data to your supplier — are entirely optional and many people have legitimate reasons for rejecting them.
For example, nearly all the meters so far installed are ones that lose their smart functions if you switch providers.
Understandably, many readers want to wait until the devices are capable of working with any supplier before they make the swap.
Others have privacy concerns about how energy suppliers plan to use their data — especially after the Facebook scandal — while some are worried about the safety of an electronic device being linked to their gas supply.
The Government has stated nobody is under any obligation to have a smart meter fitted. Yet our postbag is bulging with evidence that firms routinely lead homeowners to believe they have no choice in the matter, and that they must ‘upgrade’ immediately.
The bullying tactics include:
- Charging people more unless they accept a smart meter;
- Setting up installation appointments for customers who haven’t requested them;
- Reneging on pledges to stop contacting customers who feel harassed;
- Giving people the impression they will face charges if they don’t accept a free meter;
- Bribing customers with £50 Amazon vouchers.
Today, we reveal the reasons firms are using these dirty tricks — and lay out our key demands, which should put an end to them once and for all.
Crucially, all the major energy suppliers — British Gas, E.ON, SSE, ScottishPower, npower and EDF Energy — are under enormous pressure to install 50 million smart meters in UK homes and businesses by the end of 2020. But with two-and-a-half years to go, they can so far tick off only 11 million.
Smart meters show how much power and gas you’re using minute by minute and send that data to your supplier
That means firms must fit 24 smart meters every minute between now and the deadline. If they fail to meet the target, power firms face swingeing fines equal to 10 per cent of their worldwide sales. In the worst cases, the penalties could exceed £7 billion.
Suppliers have been ordered by the Government to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure every home has a smart meter fitted by the end of 2020.
But firms say they have been issued no guidance on what ‘all reasonable steps’ means in practice. As a result, the Big Six privately admit they push the boundaries as far as they can.
‘The threat of such a huge fine is like a Sword of Damocles hanging over us,’ says a source at one major supplier. ‘When we’ve asked what ‘all reasonable steps’ means, the answer has been: ‘We’ll tell you if you’ve done enough after the deadline.’
‘We’re taking the view that the only way to prove we’ve done enough — and avoid the fine — is to have meters actually installed in homes rather than just asking customers if they want one.’
Money Mail’s Stop The Smart Meter Bullying campaign calls on the Government to relax its targets for the roll-out.
Ministers could either push back the 2020 deadline or reduce the number of homes in which they need to fit meters. For example, they could say suppliers must install them in only 80 per cent of homes and businesses by this time.
Privately, energy firms say this would reduce the need for bullying tactics as they could more carefully target the customers who they think would be interested.
Money Mail revealed in February that suppliers estimated the cost of fitting the meters across the country had ballooned from £11 billion to more than £20 billion.
This cost goes on customers’ bills so could wipe out the benefits from the energy savings they were promised they would make from seeing up-to-date usage figures and receiving accurate monthly charges.
Money Mail understands some firms are concerned that if they are forced to install smart meters too quickly, the fitters they employ could start to cut corners. If the technology is installed poorly, it could put families at risk of fires or an explosion.
The second part of Money Mail’s campaign calls on the energy regulator to set out clear rules on what is and what is not an acceptable way to advertise the devices to customers.
Companies should have to state clearly — in large print on letters, emails, texts and during phone calls — that installing a smart meter is optional and that customers have the right to say no.
Ofgem must also prevent companies setting up installation appointments for customers who have not requested them.
The watchdog should ban firms from reserving their best energy prices for customers who have smart meters and should crack down on the use of incentives to persuade people to sign up.
‘Smart meters help customers save money,’ says Energy Minister Claire Perry. ‘That is why we are we committed to ensuring that all consumers are offered the chance to upgrade by the end of 2020.
‘Suppliers must treat customers fairly in how they communicate with them and we expect regulator Ofgem to ensure they do.’
An Energy UK spokesman says: ‘Companies have trialled different approaches and we’re working with suppliers on good-practice principles for the smart meter roll-out.’
A spokesman for Ofgem says: ‘It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed — consumers have a right to decline them and suppliers must not mislead consumers.’
Supplier booked a fitting without my permission — I was furious: Kathy, 65, is one of thousands hounded by energy firms that won’t take no for an answer
By: SARA SMYTH
Almost seven months have passed since Money Mail first reported on energy suppliers bullying customers into getting smart meters — and readers say the intimidation tactics are only getting dirtier.
Every week, we receive dozens of complaints from customers who’ve been bombarded with calls, texts and letters that make it seem like they must get the new technology fitted immediately.
Some have discovered that this is not true and have written back to their suppliers, pleading for the junk mail to stop. Yet the barrage rarely ceases.
Angry: Kathy Relf struggled to contain her outrage when Npower emailed her saying an appointment had been booked for a smart meter to be fitted when she hadn’t asked for one
Anne Dagen, from Stanwick, Northamptonshire, says she’s hit by a wave of anger each time a letter arrives from her supplier, E.on.
The letters she and other customers have received are some of the most aggressive Money Mail has seen.
Some state, in bold, red lettering, that ‘your meters are being phased out’ and ‘we need to change your meter’.
Readers say they were left with the impression that the changeover was a foregone conclusion — even though they have the right to refuse.
In July last year, Anne was receiving roughly one of these types of letters every month. She complained about being harassed and was offered a derisory £10 compensation.
E.on promised that her complaint would be logged on her account and Anne would not hear about an installation for the ‘foreseeable future’.
But, just six months later, the letters started arriving again. In January, E.on wrote saying Anne needed to upgrade to the new equipment.
Then, in March, an email arrived saying: ‘You recently told us you were interested in being one of the first to have a brand new smart meter.’
Anne says she never told E.on anything of the sort. ‘It’s so frustrating that the whole cycle has begun again,’ she says. ‘It’s as if they’ve wiped my records and are ignoring the fact I have made two official complaints.’
Anne refused the £10 compensation, saying it in no way reflects the annoyance she has been caused.
A spokesman for E.on apologised for not removing Anne from its mailing list when she asked.
Last October, E.on promised to tone down the language it uses when it contacts customers about smart meters, after Money Mail reported the firm to Ofgem.
Misleading: Replica of a letter sent out by E.ON (name and address changed)
At the time, its correspondences said: ‘It’s a legal requirement and we want to keep you safe. When we replace it, we’re going to give you a free self-reading meter.’
However, the evidence shows that the firm has continued with its bullish tactics.
We have seen letters dated February 2018 that state: ‘Your electricity meter is an old model that we need to replace with our free self-reading smart meter. We need to install smart meters in our customer’s homes as part of a nationwide upgrade programme.’
John, 78, from Hertfordshire, received one of these letters from E.on last September.
He wrote an impassioned reply, telling E.on to stop pestering him — but was then contacted four times in one month. Last month, he received two letters and two phone calls from the firm.
An E.on spokesman apologised and the firm has now removed John from its mailing list.
Money Mail has heard several accounts of companies leading customers to believe that they could be charged for smart meter installations if they don’t agree to one now.
One customer, who does not want to be named, says: ‘It’s presented like a ticking time bomb. It certainly sounds like you will end up with one, whether you want it or not.’
This customer is with Utility Warehouse, but the firm says it has no record of ever giving customers any information that would suggest they have to pay for a smart meter.
All suppliers have slightly different ways of trying to convince their customers to sign up.
First Utility has offered £50 Amazon vouchers to customers who agree to have a smart meter fitted within the next month.
Scottish Power has sent emails asking customers: ‘Did you know your current gas and electricity meters are being phased out and replaced with smart meters?’
SSE writes to customers with traditional meters that are ‘nearing the end of their lifespan’. It then offers smart meters as replacements. EDF letters say: ‘Important — book your smart meter change now’.
Last year, we caught firms booking smart meter installation appointments for customers — even though they hadn’t requested one.
The evidence you’ve sent to our postbag shows this practice is continuing — at an alarming rate.
Kathy Relf, 65, struggled to contain her outrage when Npower emailed her saying an appointment had been booked for a smart meter to be fitted when she hadn’t asked for one and does not want a new meter.
The email, seen by Money Mail, states: ‘Your new smart meters are coming. Confirm your Npower smart meter appointment.’
The retired radio producer was told she had an appointment in two weeks’ time.
The email continues: ‘We’d like to come and fit your smart meters but can only guarantee we’ll be able to fit them if you confirm this date or choose a new one within the next five days.’
Kathy cancelled the appointment and asked for no further communication from Npower about dual fuel smart meters.
She says: ‘I’d never heard of being given an appointment that I hadn’t asked for.
‘It’s a bit rich because when you do want something sorted, it’s almost impossible to get an appointment with Npower.’
A spokesman for Npower says that offering appointments in this way is in line with the Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice.
In January, the Mail reported that energy giants had been accused of flouting trading laws by pressuring homeowners into getting smart meters.
Some firms were making it sound like a legal requirement to replace your meter.
Trading Standards chiefs told power firms giving customers this impression breached consumer law.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute wrote to Energy UK, which represents big suppliers, to raise concerns about the way that firms are marketing the meters.
Yet Money Mail readers say their suppliers, under huge pressure to keep rolling out smart meters, are still using hard-sell ploys.
George McClure, 70, will lose £144 a year if he doesn’t sign up for a smart meter with his current provider. The retired headmaster and his wife Maureen, also 70, have paid £90 a month for dual fuel with First Utility for the past five years.
Money Mail readers say their suppliers, under huge pressure to keep rolling out smart meters, are still using hard-sell ploys
They were told their current tariff will change to £98 if they renew next month.
But this deal is only valid if a smart meter is installed. Without a smart meter, the best deal the couple can get is £110 a month.
George doesn’t want one, but also doesn’t want to overspend on his energy.
He says: ‘It’s an underhand way to force my hand, but I refuse to have a device in my home that undermines my privacy.’
A spokesman for First Utility says the firm makes clear when a customer signs up that the tariff they’re offered is dependent on having a smart meter installed within six months.
Saverio D’Amico, 67, says he felt tricked into accepting a smart meter after he was sent a seemingly innocuous letter claiming his analogue electricity meter had reached the end of its lifespan.
The retired engineer from Peterborough followed the letter’s instructions to telephone E.on to arrange a like-for-like replacement. Instead, he was greeted by a smart meter adviser who thanked him for requesting the new technology.
Saverio says: ‘I felt duped — like they’d used mind tricks to reel me in. I was a bit flustered throughout the phone call and the adviser just kept talking over me. So, in the end, I accepted it and had the meter installed.’
Saverio was unaware that sticking with an analogue meter was an option for him.
A spokesman for E.on says that Saverio didn’t contact the firm to say he didn’t want a smart meter. It said it was in the process of updating its letters and emails to make it clearer that smart meters are not compulsory.
The spokeman adds: ‘We’re obliged to contact our customers about upgrading their smart meters as part of our commitment to Ofgem.’ A spokesman for Energy UK says: ‘The energy industry has installed more than 11 million smart meters in the UK.
‘Customers have reported high levels of satisfaction overall for both the smart meter itself (80 per cent) and the installation visit (89 per cent).
‘Energy companies are working hard to enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits that smart meters bring and to ensure the rollout is carried out safely, efficiently and cost-effectively.
‘Suppliers remain committed to meeting the Government’s deadline of ensuring all households and businesses are offered a smart meter by 2020.’
How I fought the bullies and won £50
By: GUY ADAMS
Smart move: Feature writer Guy Adams took on First Utility and won £50
Last autumn, a new type of junk mail began to appear among the pizza menus and charity begging letters on the doormat of my West London flat.
Sent in official-looking envelopes, they came from my gas and electricity supplier, First Utility. Each instructed me to ‘upgrade to a smart meter’ in order to ‘get your gas and electricity bills under control’.
As far as I’m concerned, my gas and electricity bills are already ‘under control’.
And I’ve no desire to take a day off so workmen can fit a vaguely Orwellian device that will almost certainly become useless when I switch supplier.
The letters were consigned swiftly to the bin. Various similar emails met the same fate, too.
Nevertheless, the marketing blitz continued.
One day in mid-October, things took an more intrusive turn, when lunch was interrupted by the ping of a text message. It was ‘just a friendly reminder from First Utility to call our partner Siemens (on an 0345 number) to arrange your smart meter installation’.
Irritated by this increasingly high-pressure campaign, I wrote to the energy company, formally asking it to stop contacting me about smart meters. A simple request, one might think. But it was not to be.
In response, First Utility claimed that it would take me off its own ‘smart meter mailing list’.
Yet, somewhat bizarrely, it added that this wouldn’t actually prevent new text messages from arriving.
These had, apparently, been sent by Siemens, a German technology firm it had hired, as a sub-contractor, to install the devices.
To prevent this other firm from continuing to bother me, I was blithely advised to ‘contact them directly’.
There are several problems with this response — not least that I’d no contractual relationship with Siemens and no memory of agreeing to have my personal phone number shared with it, or anyone else.
I therefore asked First Utility to explain why it had passed it on and when, if ever, I’d consented.
Its response? A boilerplate message claiming it had been handed out as part of a ‘government led initiative to let every household know about smart meters by 2020’.
Since this was obviously false (the Government has not instructed utility firms to give our personal data to third parties), I did what every consumer messed around by an energy company ought to do at the earliest opportunity and declared that I wished to ‘raise a formal complaint’.
There followed one of the more Kafka-esque experiences of my adult life, in which a succession of the firm’s ‘case handlers’ sent a variety of evasive emails, claiming their ‘processes’ are ‘in line with the Data Protection Act’.
Awkwardly, for them at least, the marketing wing of First Utility wasn’t listening.
As a result, the firm continued, despite my repeated requests, to send out regular, pushy messages, pestering me to accept a smart meter.
during the month that followed my original complaint, I received three more unsolicited emails (several containing very basic grammatical errors), one letter and, on November 21, yet another irritating text message.
B y Christmas, following several apologies, along with an attempt by First Utility to declare my complaint ‘closed’, I gave the firm a week to sort its act out, before I escalated things to Ofgem and the Information Commissioner.
Amazingly, they telephoned me within a few days, offering £50 compensation and promising (correctly, this time) that the hectoring would finally stop.
I went away a little richer and a lot more certain that energy giants are the opposite of smart.