Energy suppliers accused of ‘pestering’ customers over smart meter installations

An investigation by Money Mail alleges some householders have been ‘bombarded’ with calls, emails, letters and texts

Net Hero Podcast

Some large energy suppliers have been accused of “pestering” customers over the installation of smart meters in their homes.

An investigation by Money Mail alleges some of its readers have been “badgered” into getting the smart technology installed even after initially refusing to have one, with some “bombarded” with calls, emails, letters and texts by suppliers including npower and SSE.

It comes as the government has set a goal to install smart meters in all homes and businesses by 2020.

However, recent research from consumer body Which? revealed larger suppliers are “fighting a losing battle” as they would need to triple the current rate of installing the smart technology to hit the target.

A total of 53 smart meters are due to be installed and the big energy companies are responsible for rolling out 46 million.

The National Audit Office also recently warned the government will fail to meet its target and the costs will likely escalate beyond initial expectations, however, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said nearly £17 billion worth of savings have been forecast for everyone from the technology alone and up to £40 billion worth of benefits will be delivered by a smarter system between now and 2050.

Money Mail alleges an SSE customer was “threatened with bailiffs” and incorrectly told smart meters were a legal requirement.

One customer, Brian Steventon, claimed npower sent him “half a dozen emails” in less than 12 months to schedule the installation of a smart meter and only stopped contacting him only after he threatened legal action while another customer, Mike Nellist, received about 10 letters in 12 months.

The report also claims some have been sent “unasked-for installation appointments” which they have struggled to cancel.

Ofgem said energy suppliers are allowed to use pre-booked appointments to install a meter, however, customers can cancel or rearrange them.

A spokesperson added: “It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed – consumers have a right to decline them and suppliers must not mislead consumers. Ofgem is working with suppliers offering smart meter installations to make sure their communications help their customers reap the benefits of smart metering and are transparent and accurate.

“Energy suppliers are obliged under government rules to aim to install smart meters for all their customers by 2020…Smart meters have big potential benefits for consumers including ending estimated billing, providing real-time information about energy use helping to cut bills.”

In an open letter to suppliers earlier this year, the regulator wrote: “Overly repetitive and coercive approaches to consumer engagement, as opposed to innovative and tailored re-contact strategies, can be counterproductive to the successful achievement of the rollout obligations.”

SSE said if customers don’t accept the offer of a smart meter, a traditional meter will be fitted in the old meter’s place.

Referring to Ms Wilson’s incident, a spokesperson added: “Ms Wilson’s complaint followed a call from SSE regarding a meter recert; the replacement of an old meter that has reached the end of its lifespan. SSE is obliged to replace these meters to prevent them becoming a safety hazard and to ensure meter readings remain accurate. SSE contacts customers to let them know this is the case and uses this opportunity to introduce customers to smart meters.

“Clearly in this case our customer service agent acted inappropriately and we apologised to Ms Wilson at the time. If a customer does not want to be contacted about smart meters we put a marker on their account meaning they will no longer receive letters or calls specifically about smart. Unfortunately, due to human error in this instance the marker was not put on Ms Wilson’s account following her original complaint. We will be contacting Ms Wilson to apologise once again and have now placed a marker on her account to prevent her receiving smart marketing materials in the future.”

An npower spokesperson said: “We’re sorry that Brian and Mike felt pressured into getting a smart meter. We offer customers appointments to have a smart meter installed because our licence obligations require us to ‘take all reasonable steps’ to reach our smart meter targets. We also follow the Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP) in all our customer communications.

“While smart meters bring many benefits, customers are able to refuse one when offered. People who don’t want a smart meter can call us or contact us online; they can also amend their offered appointment to a more convenient date/time using these channels.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “Millions have already chosen to have a smart meter and take control of their energy bills. Energy suppliers must treat customers fairly in how they communicate with them and we expect the regulator Ofgem to ensure they do.

“This world-leading upgrade to our national infrastructure is the cornerstone of our move to a smarter energy system which will bring benefits to consumers and industry worth up to £40 billion.”