Press release:

Households pushed to accept smart meters despite not knowing why they need one

  • Three in ten (30%) homes who have been offered a smart meter feel under pressure from suppliers to have one installed[1], with many believing they have no choice[2]
  • 61% of customers offered a smart meter say they were not given a full explanation of why they were being offered it, or its benefits, by their energy supplier[3]
  • Over three quarters (78%) feel there are risks to having one[4] – such as the device sending incorrect readings or being used to increase energy costs
  • uSwitch.com calls on energy suppliers and Smart Energy GB to provide better information about smart meters, and to highlight that households don’t have to have one installed if they don’t want one.

The rush to offer smart meters to every home by 2020 means three in ten consumers that have been offered one of the devices (30%) have felt pressured into accepting it by energy suppliers[1] according to new research from uSwitch.com, the price comparison and switching site. Of those who say they were pressured, three in ten (30%) say they were given the impression that they had no choice in the matter[2].

The research suggests that some suppliers – mandated to hit government installation targets – may be pushing consumers overly hard to accept a smart meter, with many consumers feeling that supplier communications regarding smart meters haven’t given them the full picture.

Smart meters should see an end to energy customers having to manually provide their supplier with meter readings, as well as making bills more accurate and helping customers see what they’re spending on gas and electricity in real time.

However, despite the many potential positives of smart meters, fewer than four in ten (39%) of those who were offered one by their energy company said that the benefits of the technology had been fully explained[3]. Most concerningly, more than one in ten (12%) said they weren’t provided with any information at all about why they needed a smart meter or what they were for[3].

Three in ten (30%) consumers who felt under pressure say they were given the impression that getting a smart meter was part of a routine upgrade and that they didn’t have a choice about accepting one[2]. Over one in ten (13%) who felt pressured report that they were told that all meters were being replaced and their old meters would stop working, so they should have a new one installed[2]. Meanwhile 12% felt they were led to believe that having a smart meter was a legal requirement[2]. More than a tenth (11%) of those who felt under pressure even had an installation booked by their energy company without being asked or told about it in advance[2].

Meanwhile, over three quarters (78%) of energy customers who have been approached about getting a smart meter still have concerns about the technology[4] with over a third (34%) of those who refused a meter saying they have been influenced by media stories – irrespective of whether those stories are correct[6]. Many think that smart meters might actually increase their energy bills, with over a third (36%) of consumers worried that the technology could fail and send incorrect, higher meter readings to their energy company[5]. Almost three in ten (29%) are suspicious that suppliers will use smart meters to increase energy prices over the long term[5]. A further quarter (25%) think that the meters could be hacked by cyber-criminals[5], and nearly one fifth (19%) think the data collected could be used to spy on their household habits[5]. Meanwhile, nearly one in ten (7%) energy customers worry that the signal used by smart meters could damage their health[5].

Awareness of what smart meters do and don’t do is mixed and is not limited to the perceived problems of smart technology. Among households who have been offered a smart meter over a third (34%) were unaware that that they will allow energy suppliers to read meters remotely, removing the need for manual readings[7]. One in ten households (11%) believe they will detect gas leaks or electricity surges and a further 7% incorrectly believe that a smart meter will make sure they’re on the cheapest tariff in the market[7]. A further 7% think smart meters themselves can switch off appliances automatically to reduce energy use[7].

Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com, 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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Notes to editors

Research was conducted online by Opinium between 7th and 13th June 2018, among 2,009 adults (aged 18+) who have been approached about getting a Smart Meter. 941 of respondents have a smart meter, 67 are waiting for one to be installed and 1001 don’t have one.

  1. When asked ‘Did/do you feel under pressure from your supplier to get a smart meter installed?’, 30% of all respondents said yes.
  2. When those who had indicated that they had felt under pressure from their supplier to have a smart meter installed were asked ‘How are/were you made to feel under pressure?’, 30% said ‘My supplier gave me the impression that this was part of a routine upgrade and didn’t tell me I had a choice’; 13% said ‘My supplier told me all meters were being replaced and the old ones would stop working’; 12% said ‘My supplier told me it was a legal requirement’; and 11% said ‘My supplier booked an installation without telling me in advance’.
  3. When asked ‘When your energy supplier contacted you, did they tell you why they were offering you a smart meter, and explain its benefits before installation (either on the phone, via post/email or in person)?’, 39% said ‘Yes, they explained it fully’; 36% said ‘Somewhat – they explained the basics’; 13% said ‘Not really – they provided information but I would have liked more’; and 12% said ‘No, they didn’t explain it or provide any information at all’.
  4. When asked ‘Do you have any concerns regarding smart meters?’, 78% of respondents chose at least one option.
  5. When asked ‘Do you have any concerns regarding smart meters?’, 36% said ‘I think they could go wrong and send inaccurate meter readings, pushing up my bill’; 29% said ‘I think they could be used by suppliers to push up my bills in the long run’; 25% said ‘I think they could be hacked by cybercriminals’; 19% said ‘I think they could be used to spy on my family’s lifestyle habits’; and 7% said ‘I think the wireless signal could damage my health’.
  6. When those who had refused a smart meter were asked ‘Why did you decide not to accept the offer of a smart meter?’, 34% said ‘I have read or heard stories about problems with the technology and it has put me off’.
  7. When asked ‘What do you think smart meters actually do?’, 66% said ‘Allow energy suppliers to read your energy meters remotely, removing the need to provide meter readings’ therefore 34% are unaware that that they will allow energy suppliers to read meters remotely,11% said ‘Provide warnings on gas leaks or electricity surges’; 10% said ‘Link to household personal assistants (e.g. Amazon Echo / Nest / Hive) to control your energy use’; 7% said ‘Control or switch off other household appliances to reduce energy use’; and 7% said ‘Automatically switch you onto the cheapest tariff’.

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