Three quarters of consumers think if they have a smart meter their bills could rise, they could be hacked by cyber criminals, or there could be a danger to their health, new research has revealed.
Thirty per cent of UK households also said they have been pressured by their energy provider into having a smart meter fitted into their home.
Of those a third said they felt their energy firm gave them no other choice than to have the new device fitted.
30% of consumers say they’ve been pressured into having a smart meter installed
Energy firms have been given a deadline of 2020 by which time they must have offered all eligible customers the chance to have a smart meter fitted.
In order to meet this target, providers have been sometimes aggressively targeting customers to ask them about having a meter installed.
The research from comparison website uSwitch revealed that a third of energy customers were given the impression that a smart meter installation was part of a routine upgrade and they didn’t have a choice in accepting it.
Meanwhile 13 per cent said they were told their current meter would stop working if they didn’t get a smart meter and a further 12 per cent were told it was a legal requirement to have one fitted.
We’ve heard from numerous customers who have received demanding letters from their energy firm. This includes providers pre-booking installation appointments, telling customers their bills might go up if they don’t have a smart meter fitted, and also telling them they had to have their old meter replaced with a smart meter.
It’s also the case that providers sometimes don’t tell consumers that having a smart meter is not compulsory and they can continue using their standard meter if they want to.
Of those asked by the website, 61 per cent said they were not given a full explanation by their energy firm of why they were being offered a smart meter or the benefits of having one.
The regulator, Ofgem, is in charge of creating the guidelines for energy providers around what they can say to customers.
An Ofgem spokesperson said: ‘Suppliers must make sure they are helping consumers to understand the benefits of smart meters, and that their communications are transparent and accurate.
‘Ofgem is closely monitoring suppliers’ approach to the roll out of smart meters and will hold suppliers to account for meeting their obligations, which includes making sure communications to offer smart meter installations are transparent and accurate.’
Smart meters are intended to make it easier to understand and pay for energy use. However, there have been some teething problems. The first wave of smart meters, which have been installed into homes already and firms are still using, can lose their smart functionality if the consumers switches to a different energy supplier.
We have also heard from a number of readers who do not want to have one installed for other reasons, such as fears over security risks or over the meter interfering with other household appliances.
Energy firms have a target of 2020 by which they need to approach consumers about meters
The data from uSwitch shows that 78 per cent of the 2,001 consumers approached were wary about getting a smart meter. As many as 36 per cent thought incorrect meter readings might be sent and 29 per cent thought providers would use smart meters to push up costs in the long term.
There were also fears over the safety of the technology with 25 per cent saying they were worried a smart meter could be hacked by cyber criminals, 19 per cent thought it would be used by a third-party to spy on household habits while 7 per cent thought it was a danger to health.
Of the households who have been approached by their energy firm about having a meter, 34 said they didn’t know a meter would let their provider read their readings remotely, 11 per cent incorrectly thought a meter could detect gas leaks or electricity surges and 7 per cent thought one could make sure they were on the cheapest tariff.
But the only information a smart meter records is how much energy is being used in a home. This is then encrypted and sent to your provider via a dedicated secure national network, called the DCC.
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch, says: ‘Unfortunately, the smart meter rollout has been delayed because not all the necessary infrastructure has been built yet.
‘This has led to a rush to meet the 2020 deadline and energy companies being threatened with fines if they don’t meet the installation targets imposed on them, creating an environment where some suppliers feel they need to use questionable tactics to try to get households to accept a smart meter.
‘Households have a right to know that they don’t have to accept a smart meter if they don’t want one. Consumers have told us about engineers turning up unannounced to install them without customers’ permission which is simply unacceptable. No one should feel pressured into having one without even understanding what it can and can’t do.
‘Smart meters are an important upgrade to the country’s energy infrastructure and will help consumers reduce their energy use – and ultimately their bills. But energy suppliers need to focus on helping households to understand what the smart meters currently being offered can do and why they are being rolled out.
‘Otherwise the risk is that households won’t change their behaviour to reduce their energy usage, nor will they trust the technology, and faith in the rollout programme will be lost. Putting consumers at the heart of the programme is more important than hitting a deadline which is looking increasingly unrealistic.’
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