The Great Smart Meter Swindle

When the Conservatives wrote about smart meters

in their 2017 election manifesto it went un-noticed that the smart meter programme was effectively put to death. Page 60 stated that everyone ”will be offered a smart meter by 2020”. The so-called mandatory national programme became voluntary. The programme was dumped on us in 2008 by Ed “Stone” Milliband using a dishonest impact assessment. All the parties backed it after 2010, leaving no-one to point out that it was going to cost us all a fortune and never save any carbon.

Part of the Smart Meter swindle was the plan that all replaced gas and electric meters, 47 million meters with smart meters, could be turned off remotely. The energy companies demanded this facility so that customers who don’t pay their bills can be switched to prepayment tariffs without the hassle of getting court orders against them. If the Government bought this argument, then the off switch had better be closely guarded. You don’t want the nation’s enemies to be able to turn off the lights remotely do you?

Today we read that energy giants have been accused of ‘blackmailing’ customers into installing these smart meters. Money mail has reported that many of the ‘Big Six’ are now insisting that customers have a smart meter to secure the cheapest deal, according to research by Money Mail. Those who refuse are often told they can only sign up to a deal that cost hundreds of pounds more.

The cheapest tariff offered by Britain’s biggest supplier, British Gas, costs an average of £954 a year. But the small print reads “By signing up to this tariff you agree you’ll book a smart meter installation appointment within three months”. The hell I will!

Those who don’t will be switched to another tariff, but British Gas’s cheapest deal without a smart meter costs an extra £266. A spokesman said ‘Sometimes a deal may require smart meters’. Energy companies had to offer every household in the UK a smart meter by 2020. Customers can refuse but firms face fines if they cannot prove they have done enough to promote them. Smart meters automatically send meter readings and show customers how much they are spending. The aim was to end estimated bills and help households reduce costs by cutting consumption.

However, the roll-out was hit by delays, which has led suppliers to find new ways of tempting customers. Money Mail has been contacted by Eon customers who say that without a smart meter they must take the company’s standard variable tariff. This is currently £211-a-year more expensive than the firm’s cheapest deal. A spokesman said ‘If someone doesn’t wish to have [a smart meter] they will be able explore our other options’.

Npower’s cheapest deal also requires customers to get a smart meter installed. Scottish Power and SSE customers must register an interest in a smart meter when they sign up for the cheapest tariff. But both companies admit they are not obliged to install one. EDF Energy is the only firm to make it clear in the small print that customers can opt out of having a smart meter. Meanwhile, other suppliers are luring customers with promises of credits or cashback when they sign up.

Steve Playle, of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said ‘Blackmailing energy customers with financial incentives has sadly been adopted by much of the industry and it’s only going to get worse. George Chalmers of switching website Migrate said: ‘While smart meters are not mandatory, many suppliers have been doing their best to make them seem mandatory to consumers. By making their cheaper tariffs only available to people willing to accept a smart meter, suppliers have been effectively allowed to force consumers into getting one’.

As Trevor Brigden told the Mail, he has no intention of installing a smart meter but was recently blocked from the best value tariffs at energy giant Eon as a result. The 79-year-old switches suppliers regularly and, with his current Scottish Power deal set to expire, phoned Eon to ask for its energy prices to compare with others in the Big Six.

The retired education welfare officer, from Coventry, said ‘I was told they could not offer me any prices for tariffs apart from the standard expensive one. ‘I was furious. Those meters allow companies to gather information about you. And they can change the pricing and control your energy supply. It’s wrong that companies are clearly pushing people to have meters when they don’t want them’.

The scheme, which started in 2011, has been controversial and could eventually cost taxpayers £23bn, only £10.9bn being budgeted for. As recently as September 2018 Britain’s energy regulator has been fighting to keep secret the claims of two whistleblowers who independently raised concerns about potentially serious irregularities in projects worth billions of pounds.

The so-called big six energy suppliers were hoping to introduce a new kind of pricing to go with smart meters, a system used elsewhere in the world called time of use tariffs. This could mean that you are charged much more at peak times, say between 16:00 and 20:00, for using electricity. The idea is that you are being nudged to use your appliances when it is cheaper. Critics worry that this might have damaging effects on vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly and those on low incomes.

The EU, (yes them!) has said that all its members must provide smart meters by 2020 as long as there is a positive economic case to do so. Germany employed accountancy firm Ernst and Young to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and they concluded it did not make economic sense, because most householders did not use enough energy to make it value for money. As a result, Germany declined to stage a mass roll-out.

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