Smart meter warning: Devices face ‘last resort’ switch off over outstanding bills

Smart Meters: Dominic Littlewood offers advice to reduce bills

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Ofgem confirmed on Friday an 80.06 percent rise in the energy price cap, sending the average household’s yearly bill from £1,971 to £3,549 from October. As the energy crisis hits millions of consumers across the country, many have recently decided to install smart meters in a bid to gain control of their energy usage.

But experts now warn that these could be remotely disconnected by the providers, if consumers don’t pay their bills on time.

This would leave the consumer unable to track their electricity and gas usage.

Asked if it is possible that providers suddenly switch off a consumer’s smart meter, Michael Grimshaw, head of critical national infrastructure (CNI) at Vysiion, replied: “It is possible, yes, in the context of unpaid charges, but only within a very limited set of circumstances.”

And he explained: “The Electricity and Gas Supplier licence conditions, which are set out by the regulator Ofgem, give suppliers the option to disconnect gas and electricity services in relation to unpaid charges. However, this should be done only as a last resort.

“The supplier has provisions to take all reasonable steps to recover unpaid charges, which includes the option whereby the customer can be switched to a prepayment meter if they are currently using a credit meter.”

However, the expert noted that the licence conditions include clauses to protect customers. He said: “For example, clause 27.10 ensures that customers of a pensionable age who live alone or only with other persons of pensionable age or under the age of 18 cannot be disconnected in winter.

“Meanwhile, clause 27.11 protects customers that are disabled or chronically sick from being disconnected in winter.”

Asked whether outstanding bills payment can affect one’s smart meter reading, Mr Grimshaw replied: “Paying your energy bill and your smart meter reading are two separate things, though they are part of the same meter-to-cash process.

“Energy meters record the energy consumption of a property, so if the consumer turns on the light or their washing machine, for example, the meter reading will increase by the number of energy units that are consumed by those devices.

“If all the devices are turned off, the meter reading will stop increasing as there is no energy consumption to record. This is how all energy meters record a household’s energy consumption, irrespective of whether they are smart or non-smart.

“Energy suppliers then bill the consumer based on this reading and the consumer pays the bill. Even if the customer does not pay the bill or defaults on their direct debit payments, the smart meter will keep recording the consumption as usual whenever an electrical switch or device is turned on.”

Chris Shaw, CEO of comparison platform Utility Bidder, said: “Energy firms tend to arrange a payment plan with the customer to make the process suit their needs, and would only contact the customer regarding disconnecting their gas or electricity if a bill hasn’t been paid after 28 days.

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“It is not common for suppliers to disconnect people’s smart meters as an agreement is usually reached to install a pre-payment meter instead – switching off their supply would only be done as a last resort if communication is lost between the customer and the supplier.”

But there are ways that consumers can avoid this situation. When asked about it, Mr Shaw suggested a few moves that can help people struggling.

He told “Making small changes to your lifestyle at home can make a difference, and help save energy to avoid hefty bills. For example, according to the Energy Saving Trust, British residents could save £55 a year by switching off their TV instead of opting for standby, as well £20 per year by turning off the lights.

“Smart meters are extremely handy when tracking your energy use and come with an in-home display, allowing users to track energy usage in real-time and its cost.”

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