The penalty for refusing a smart meter is now costing households as much as £255 a year.
Money Mail readers have surged forward to cry foul after we reported that energy suppliers were saving their best deals for those willing to have the gadgets installed.
It means those who don’t want one are being punished with pricier bills for their gas and electricity.
Money Mail readers have surged forward to cry foul after we reported that energy suppliers were saving their best deals for those willing to have smart meters installed
The installation of a smart meter is not a legal requirement, yet more than 100 of you wrote to us to complain that you had been denied a better deal simply because you didn’t want one.
More than 50 of these letters and emails were from E.on customers. But the regulator is powerless to stop the surcharge — despite some firms admitting it is not fair.
Here, Money Mail, speaks to customers who are angry at the smart meter penalty — and explains what you can do about it.
‘Bullied and blackmailed’
Pat Pocock says: ‘I’ve already been bombarded with calls and emails asking me to get a smart meter, but I know it is not illegal to refuse so I will not be pushed into getting one’
Retired hospital administrator Pat Pocock has to fork out an extra £120 a year because she doesn’t want a smart meter.
The widow was paying £59 a month for gas and electricity with First Utility before it was acquired by Shell last year.
When her tariff ended in April, she discovered the cheapest Shell deal would cost around £64 a month.
But when Pat, who lives in the hamlet of Totties in West Yorkshire, read the small print she discovered that she would need to have a smart meter installed within six months.
The cheapest deal without this requirement would see her monthly payments hiked to £74 — an extra £120 a year.
Pat, 65, says: ‘It’s iniquitous — another example of how these companies try to bully and blackmail you into getting a smart meter. I’ve already been bombarded with calls and emails asking me to get one, but I know it is not illegal to refuse so I will not be pushed into getting one.’
Pat is also worried that the mobile signal where she lives is not strong enough for a smart meter to work.
A Shell spokesman says its smart meter-only offer has now ended and that customers can get all tariffs, regardless of their meter type. But many other suppliers have every intention of continuing to offer this type of smart meter-only deal.
Energy firms are under immense pressure to install the devices in all homes by the end of next year and face multi-million-pound fines if they cannot prove they have taken all reasonable steps to do so.
Some suppliers say offering a discount to customers who agree to have a smart meter is one way of ensuring they meet this requirement and avoid a fine.
If you do not want a smart meter there are still other energy deal options available to you
There are 14.3 million smart meters operating across homes and businesses in the UK, according to the latest official figures.
This is still a long way off the Government target of replacing all 50 million of Britain’s analogue meters by the end of 2020.
The roll-out has been dogged by blunders and delays. The first breed of meters often stop working when energy customers switch their supplier.
Smart Energy GB, the body set up by the Government to promote the meters, says older versions (SMETS1) are still awaiting connection to a dedicated radio network. Once this has been done, the smart meters will be able to work in areas with poor mobile signal and customers will be able to switch easily.
The body says that by the end of 2020 more than 99 pc of premises will have the signal required to get a smart meter.
Forced to pay £255 more
The best tariff Robert and Patricia Picton can get will cost them £884 a year — an extra £255, unless they agree to have a smart meter which they do not want
E.ON charges Robert and Patricia Picton an extra £255 because they do not want a smart meter.
The couple, from Bracknell, Berkshire, are paying £648 a year, but the tariff is due to finish at the end of the month.
They have been told they can switch to a new, cheaper fixed deal at £629 a year, but they have to agree to a smart meter.
If they refuse, the best tariff they can get will cost them £884 a year — an extra £255. Retired Ministry of Defence worker Robert, 76, was unable to find a cheaper deal elsewhere and reluctantly agreed to pay the premium.
He says: ‘I was very disappointed when they told me I couldn’t sign up to that deal just because we didn’t want a smart meter.
‘Frankly, being constantly told how much energy I’m using and how much it is costing me would drive me round the bend — I have quite enough stress from all the other technology in my life.’
Energy firms claim they can offer better rates to those with smart meters because the devices save on administration costs by sending automatic meter readings.
According to a government report in 2016, the smart meter rollout should save suppliers £8.25 billion in total.
Around £2.99 billion of this sum is expected to be saved because smart meters should reduce the need for engineer visits, as meter readings won’t be necessary.
And a further £1.21 billion should be saved because there should be fewer calls about estimated bills.
However, some suppliers such as Bulb are happy to offer a single tariff to all households, whether they have a smart meter or not.
Hayden Wood, co-founder of Bulb, says: ‘Forcing customers onto more expensive tariffs just isn’t right. Smart meters give you better information about your energy use — it’s sad to see some suppliers using them as a prop to jack up bills for families.’
James Daley, of consumer group Fairer Finance, says: ‘If some suppliers are treating their customers differently, by only offering the best tariffs to households with smart meters, then they have to expect customers which don’t want one to vote with their feet.’
Engineer never turned up
Steve Ellis booked a smart meter installation at his Southsea, Hampshire, home two years ago.
But the engineer working for his supplier, Ovo, never turned up and Steve did not want the hassle of organising another appointment.
Steve and his wife Linda, 68, spend around £1,200 a year on gas and electricity. On their most recent bill it said they could save £81 a year by switching to a tariff with Lumo, Ovo’s sister company.
But, again, the tariff is only available to customers who agree to have a smart meter — and you cannot have one already.
Steve, 72, a retired small business owner, says: ‘After reading about all the problems some smart meter users have experienced, such as difficulties in switching suppliers, I decided not to have one installed.
‘Energy firms are now obviously desperate to get their installation numbers up.’
A Lumo spokesman says that as of August 2, having a smart meter was no longer a requirement to signing up to the tariff.
Why won’t the regulator help?
Pensioner Sue Bird has called on energy watchdog Ofgem to step in to protect customers who don’t want a smart meter.
The retired architectural technician is furious after Npower barred her from its cheapest deals because she didn’t want a smart meter. Sue, 66, had been paying Npower £1,032 a year for gas and electricity.
As the end of the gas deal approached this month, she checked Npower’s website and found the cheapest tariff would cost her £41.70 a month — or £501 a year.
But information on the website instructed Sue to call Npower to sign up. When she did, she was told she needed a smart meter to qualify.
The cheapest tariff she could get without one of the gadgets would cost her £42.90 a month — an extra £14 a year more.
Sue says: ‘I told the person on the phone that I was disgusted; I felt held under financial ransom. Ofgem should be doing more to help people who don’t want a smart meter.
‘I thought getting one was a bit too much like Big Brother to begin with. Then, when I kept being put under pressure to get one, I was even more put off.’
However, Ofgem says it cannot dictate what suppliers charge, which means firms can price different types of tariffs differently. The regulator also has no say over tariff conditions, such as requiring customers to have a smart meter.
An Ofgem spokesman says: ‘Choosing not to have a smart meter may mean you don’t have access to all the available tariffs on the market, some of which could be cheaper.’
An Npower spokesman says: ‘Most of the tariffs we have on sale do call for the customer to agree to a smart meter, but we are looking at adding a further tariff that does not have this requirement.’
Gas charge jumps by 46 per cent
British Gas told Steve Greene that without a smart meter his fuel bills would be significantly higher.
Steve, 66, and partner Nina Singh, 65, have been British Gas customers for a decade, but the couple, who live in Pinner, North-West London, now plan to switch providers when their tariff ends this month.
Steve says he currently pays 15.3p per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity and 3.7p for each kWh of gas — which works out at around £255 a quarter for both.
When Steve called British Gas to ask if a cheaper tariff was available, he was told he could pay 14.7p per kWh of electricity and 2.8p per kWh of gas — but only if he signed up for a smart meter. If he refused, Steve would have to pay 18.6p per kWh of electricity and 4.1p per kWh of gas — some 46 per cent and 27 per cent more respectively than the smart-meter rate.
The former shop manager says: ‘It’s not fair that suppliers can charge you so much more just because you don’t want one.’
A British Gas spokesman says: ‘We are able to offer our customers cheaper energy for managing their accounts with smart meters and completely online. We have a range of tariffs so customers can find the right one based on their needs.’
Disillusioned with the Big Six
Roger Young has been put off the Big Six suppliers after E.on, his supplier of 12 years, stopped him saving with its cheaper tariffs.
For two years, the retired engineer and his wife Patricia, 67, paid about £74 a month for gas and electricity.
When their tariff was due to end in June, Roger called E.on to ask about another fixed deal.
He was told E.on’s cheapest tariff was around £72 a month, but to qualify, he must agree to a smart meter.
When Roger refused, he was told he would only be able to get the firm’s standard tariff, hiking the couple’s payments to around £90 a month — £216 a year more.
Roger, 68, says: ‘I don’t want a smart meter. I think they are quite intrusive and despite being a loyal E.on customer for 12 years, I felt I was being pushed into a corner.’
He and Patricia, a retired carer, decided to switch to Bulb and now pay around £54 each month.
Roger says: ‘I wouldn’t go back to any of the Big Six now. The whole experience has really annoyed me.’
Bombarded by phone calls
Kathryn and Geoffrey Saul were told they would have to move onto the firm’s standard tariff — adding £211 a year to their bills unless they agreed to E.on’s demands for a smart meter
Kathryn and Geoffrey Saul also ditched E.on after more than 20 years when the firm tried forcing them to switch to its standard tariff.
The couple, who live on Anglesey, were already fed up with all the phone calls and emails from the supplier about getting a smart meter.
But when Kathryn rang E.on in May, she was shocked to discover she could not switch to a new fixed deal if she continued to ignore their requests.
They would instead have to move onto the firm’s standard tariff — adding £211 a year to their bills.
Kathryn, a retired teacher, says: ‘I was cross about being put into this situation just because I didn’t want a smart meter. It doesn’t seem lawful. We are not excessive electricity users anyway, so a smart meter wouldn’t save us money.’
The couple have switched to Scottish Power and pay around £36 a month — down from £40 with E.on.
An E.on spokesman says: ‘Smart meters are key to creating an intelligent and decarbonised energy grid which can help bring an end to using fossil fuels for our energy needs.
‘While the obligation to install smart meters is mandated by Ofgem, we want to help all customers to be more sustainable, which is why anyone who signs up to a new fixed tariff will be contacted about having a smart meter fitted.’
He adds that if a customer doesn’t want one they will be able ‘explore our other options which might be more suitable to their needs’.
Robert Cheesewright, of Smart Energy GB, says: ‘We are really pleased to see suppliers passing on savings and offering discounted rates to customers who choose to install smart meters.’
Get wise to the truth about smart meters and your supplier
You can track how much you are spending in pounds and pence on a digital screen but it is not a legal requirement for households to have one
Q: What are they?
A: Smart meters automatically send readings to your energy supplier. You can track how much you are spending in pounds and pence on a digital screen. It is not a legal requirement to have one.
Q: Can I still switch supplier?
A: Yes, but only if you have a newer version of the gadgets — a SMETS2. If you have an older version, it could go dumb (stop working) if you try to switch.
Q: How much do they cost?
A: You don’t have to pay anything to have a smart meter installed. Households nationwide will shoulder the collective cost through their energy bills. An investigation by the National Audit Office found that the rollout could cost each dual-fuel household £374.
Q: Will it save me money?
A: Having a smart meter in itself won’t save you money, but it may help you keep track on how much you are spending and reduce your bills as a result.
Q: Is my data safe?
A: Privacy campaigners fear customer data could be vulnerable to hackers. But the Government says the meters are secure and have been developed by experts including those at GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre. You can also choose if you want your data shared with organisations such as price comparison sites.
Q: Is my smart meter old or new?
A: The easiest way to find out if you have a SMETS1 or SMETS2 is by contacting your energy supplier.ct-box text