Consumers bullied into accepting smart meters, says charity
Energy companies have been accused of bullying consumers into agreeing to have smart meters installed, and failing to make it clear the are not compulsory.
The charity Citizens Advice (CA), which runs the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), says the CTSI has received complaints about energy companies bombarding customers with emails, texts and phone calls to get them to agree to having a smart meter installed.
Some communications even imply the new meters are a legal requirement, says the CA, which they are not.
Engineers have been sent to properties even after occupants have refused to appointments.
The CTSI has now written to Energy UK, the industry representative, to say that companies may be breaking trading rules.
"We will take further action if complaints continue to come in," Steve Playle, from the institute, said. "Firms are getting more and more aggressive."
Victoria MacGregor, of Citizens Advice, said: "Smart meters are not compulsory and customers shouldn't feel pressured to have one installed. We appreciate suppliers are under pressure to install more meters but they have a responsibility to act reasonably toward their customers and not to use misleading or aggressive sales practices."
Energy UK said: "Energy companies will be adopting various methods of communication with their customers to enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits smart meters bring.”
One of the problems the CTSI identified was that of ‘deemed appointments’, where suppliers say they’re coming to install a meter without giving the householder the opportunity to opt out.
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Steve Playle said, “The industry is under great pressure to install meters by the 2020 deadline, but they’re slipping behind, and as such, they’re finding more and more ‘interesting’ ways to get people to sign up.”
The energy regulator Ofgem said suppliers must be “transparent and accurate”.
An Energy UK spokesperson said: “Energy companies are committed to meeting the government’s deadline of ensuring all households and businesses are offered a smart meter by 2020.
“Energy companies will be adopting various methods of communication with their customers to increase engagement and enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits that smart meters bring.”
What are smart meters?
Smart meters are being offered and installed in every household that wants one across England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.
By the end of the programme, which started two years ago, around 53 million smart meters will be fitted in over 30 million premises, says the government.
Unlike traditional meters, which need to be read manually, smart meters can send accurate readings of energy consumed to suppliers, which means more accurate bills.
They also allow households to monitor their energy consumption. The hope is that consumers will modify their usage to minimise energy bills as a result.
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