Hundreds of thousands of people with smart meters have been unable to switch supplier without their meter “going dumb”.
The £11bn smart meter roll-out was meant to make things simpler for customers and reduce energy usage, but many of those who switched supplier in a bid to save money found that their meter was incompatible with the new firm’s network and stopped working fully.
Government papers now reveal the true scale of the problem, stating that “less than half” of those who switched retained all the features of their smart meter. Some of those that kept working did so only because the new supplier physically changed the meter.
Millions of energy customers switch every year in pursuit of cheaper deals. According to Electralink, the firm that monitors switching data for the energy industry, a million consumers with smart meters changed supplier in the past 12 months.
But the Electralink data and the government report suggest that more than half a million consumers could have lost smart functions after a switch in the past year alone. Their meter will still display their energy usage in “kilowatt hours” but won’t show usage in pounds and pence or send readings automatically.
Switching supplier can save the average consumer £263 on their annual energy bill, according to Energyhelpline, a price comparison service. The firm’s Victoria Arrington said interoperability issues undermined the entire point of the smart meter roll-out.
She said: “Switching suppliers is a recommended method for keeping energy bills as low as possible. Any inability to combine the power of a smart meter with the freedom to switch and keep the meter ‘smart’ undermines the goal of the meters.”
A fix for this problem has been trialled for years – a centralised computer network operated by the Data Communications Company (DCC), part of the outsourcing firm Capita, and a new breed of smart meters. This will standardise systems across suppliers and make switching far simpler.
But the network’s launch has been repeatedly delayed and fewer than 300 switchable meters have so far been installed in customers’ homes. The major challenge now is making sure the millions of legacy meters are compatible with DCC’s network.