Smart meters are similar to standard gas and electricity meters but have additional features and functions. Smart meters differ from traditional meters in that they offer two-way communication, which means they can wirelessly send and receive information.
Smart meters can:
let you know how much energy you are using;
automatically send meter readings to your energy supplier;
allow you to change from prepayment mode to credit mode and back again;
spot meter tampering; and
detect when power has been lost.
Under industry rules set by energy regulator Ofgem, energy suppliers are required to ‘take all reasonable steps’ to ensure that a smart meter is installed before 30 June 2021. There is currently no requirement for suppliers to install a smart meter on request, but if you would like one you can contact your supplier to discuss availability in your area.
There might be coverage issues, meaning that readings can’t be sent to your supplier. Signal loss will happen when signal has to pass through the walls of a building. It may be that prior to arriving to install a smart meter, the supplier checked the signal strength for the area and it was okay. That check only shows the signal strength from the roadside, not the signal strength within the building. It is usually only once the supplier has put the electricity meter and communications hub on the wall that the installer realises that the signal strength is poor. The industry is working on a solution to try and resolve these issues. The industry is aware of the need to have this solution in place by the 30 June 2021.
No communications network works perfectly at all times. If a customer loses smart meter functionality, as the Energy Ombudsman when looking at a complaint we will consider whether the energy supplier has taken reasonable steps to try to resolve the issue and what ‘detriment’, if any, the loss of functionality has caused the customer. We may not be able to require a supplier to correct signal issues in the short term.
The communications hub is typically situated within or near to the electricity meter. If the gas meter is too far away it may not be able to communicate with the communications hub. Often this only becomes clear once the meters have been installed. The energy industry is working on ways to try to achieve communication between the gas meter and the communications hub when there is a significant distance between them. Currently there is no simple solution and customers in this situation may have to be patient until the industry develops a solution.
An in-home display gives consumers information about the energy they are using. Its this device that allows consumers to see their ongoing consumption in pounds and pence.
Communications issues can prevent the smart meter from connecting to the in-home display. A drop in signal can result in the in-home display showing inaccurate information. For example, we have seen cases where due to signal drop, not all of the energy the customer has used is displayed on the in-home display. This causes confusion when the customer receives their bill, as typically the usage and total cost on the bill is higher than that shown on the in-home display. The bill is usually accurate as it is based on readings from the meter. While this can cause confusion, it does not necessarily mean that the billing is wrong or the meter is faulty.
Also, when there is a distance where the meter is located and the property (e.g. flats) the signal from the meter may not reach the in-home display – resulting in the customer not having real-time consumption information. The energy industry has developed a solution to this problem, but it is not yet widely available. It is not clear when this issue will be resolved but suppliers need to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the smart metering system is in place and working by 30 June 2021.
You can refuse to have a smart meter installed in your home if you do not want one. However, choosing not to have a smart meter will mean you will miss out on many benefits.
One of the benefits of smart meters is that bills are no longer based on estimated meter readings. Estimated billing can result in consumers later receiving large ‘catch-up’ bills, leaving them with a debt to repay. Smart meters send meter readings to your energy supplier, so they can produce accurate bills.
Estimated bills and backbilling are common reasons for complaints to the Energy Ombudsman. We believe that smart meters will reduce the problems that we see from estimated billing.
We wouldn’t expect an energy supplier to change a smart meter to a traditional meter without good reason. And as the energy industry moves towards a smart and flexible system, manufacturers are less likely to produce traditional meters. This means energy suppliers may not have any traditional meters in stock.
If the energy company does not have any traditional meters available, and there are exceptional circumstances which mean the smart functionality should be removed, a suitable alternative would be to have the smart meter installed with the smart functions turned off. By doing this the meter will act like a traditional meter but by having the smart functions switched off the consumer will miss out on the benefits offered by smart meters.
If the energy supplier does have traditional meters in stock, it would be up to the individual supplier to decide whether they will replace a smart meter with a traditional meter. The installation and removal of meters costs money. If the energy company agrees to replace a working smart meter, it is entitled to charge you the costs for doing so.
As our society has become more technologically advanced, there has been a significant increase in the number of devices that emit radio waves. These devices include laptops, Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones, computer monitors, game consoles, baby monitors, and smart meters.
There has been a lot of scientific research carried out over several decades examining the effects of exposure to radio waves on health. In light of this body of research, Public Health England, the agency responsible for protecting people from health hazards, has stated:
“The evidence to date suggests exposures to the radio waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health.”
Based on the statement made by Public Health England, we as the Energy Ombudsman have no reason to believe that smart meters are a risk to health. Therefore, it is unlikely that we would require an energy supplier to replace a smart meter on health grounds unless you can provide medical evidence that the smart meter is causing harm to your health.
Energy suppliers need to liaise with the Data Communications Company (DCC) to resolve some communications issues. Energy suppliers have experienced long delays waiting for the DCC to resolve queries and this can impact on the time taken to resolve consumer complaints.
Ordinarily, when we uphold a complaint we ask the energy supplier to put things right for the customer within 28 days. Where an energy supplier is waiting for action from the DCC this may not be possible, but we would expect the energy supplier to keep you updated.
First and second-generation smart meters are similar in that they record how much energy a consumer uses and allow two-way communication with the energy supplier. One of the key differences is the cross-compatibility of second-generation meters, which comes down to the communications network they use. Cross-compatibility means a smart meter will keep its smart functions across all energy suppliers, so if you switch supplier the smart meter will continue to work in the same way.
A national communications network has been purpose built for smart meters and is managed by the Data and Communications Company (DCC). This national network was not ready when energy suppliers started installing smart meters. In order for consumers to have the benefits of smart meters, energy suppliers used third-party communications networks. All first-generation smart meters use a third-party communications network to send metering information to the energy supplier. Second-generation smart meters use the purpose-built national network.
With first-generation smart meters, it is possible that consumers will lose smart functionality when transferring between suppliers. But this problem will be resolved in the future as a technical upgrade will allow first generation smart meters to connect to the national network.
Economy 7 meters record day and night consumption separately. Consumers will pay a cheaper rate for night-time consumption and a higher rate for day-time consumption.
In general, Economy 7 Smart Meters are available to consumers. But some Economy 7 meters are linked to heating systems, with storage radiators or boilers only able to charge overnight. The meters that support such a set up are known as 5-terminal Economy 7 meters.
Energy suppliers should now be replacing traditional meters with second-generation smart meters. But no manufacturer is currently producing second-generation 5-terminal Economy 7 meters. The industry is working on a solution to this but lack of availability may mean consumers with 5-terminal Economy 7 meters are not able to receive a smart meter at present. As the deadline to provide a working smart meter has not passed, there is no obligation for supplies to provide 5-terminal Economy 7 meters at this time.
There is also a shortage of traditional 5-terminal Economy 7 meters. If such a meter becomes faulty, there may be a challenge for a supplier in sourcing a working meter. However, as consumers can lose their heat and/or hot water because of a fault, we consider it to the supplier’s responsibility to find a replacement meter as soon as possible.
Consumers with smart prepayment meters have had difficulty transferring to a new supplier because of a mismatch with Meter Timeswitch Codes (MTCs).
Before some suppliers will permit a transfer, they check that the records on the industry database match the way the account needs to be set up on their systems. First generation smart meters are set to credit mode on transfer, so the gaining supplier will expect the industry database to show a credit meter MTC to align with the initial set up in its system. But the industry records will show a prepayment meter MTC because the losing supplier is supplying energy through a prepayment meter.
Consumers end up stuck between the two suppliers: told by the gaining supplier that they cannot complete the transfer until the losing supplier has amended the industry database. And told by the losing supplier that they cannot update the industry database because the information recorded is accurate. Consumers do not know which company is at fault leading to complaints about both.
Suppliers have an obligation to keep accurate records. It would be wrong for the losing supplier to update the national database to claim that it was supplying a consumer through a credit meter when this was untrue. Therefore, we would not expect the losing supplier to update the national database with incorrect information to allow the transfer to take place.
It is our view that the gaining supplier should not refuse a transfer because the industry records show a prepayment MTC for a prepayment smart meter. Therefore, if a consumer is stuck between suppliers in these circumstances, our recommendation would be that the consumer complains to the gaining supplier.
We have developed some FAQs surrounding Feed in Tariff (FIT) complaints. The aim is to help you understand the type of issue that we can investigate and how we would approach these.
Am I responsible for ensuring the generation meter is recording accurately?
Yes, it’s the customer’s responsibility to ensure the generation meter (the meter which records the amount of energy generated) is recording accurately. If the customer suspects that there is a fault with the meter, they need report this to the FIT company (energy company providing FIT payments) as soon as possible. The customer will also need to arrange for the generation meter to be replaced by the company that originally installed it.
If my generation meter has a blank screen, will I receive FIT payments based on estimated readings or another meter reading, such as an inverter reading?
No. The rules around FIT payments, set by energy regulator Ofgem, clearly state that payments should not be made in the absence of accurate meter readings taken from the generation meter. The readings being used must come from the generation meter.
If there is a fault with the generation meter what date will the FIT payments stop and when will they start again?
The FIT payments will stop from the date of the last accurate meter reading. The customer will begin to receive FIT payments again from the date that a new generation meter is installed. There will be no payments made between the date of the last accurate meter reading on the old generation meter to the date the new replacement generation meter is installed.
Since the installation of FIT generation equipment at my property, my energy consumption has changed considerably. What may have caused this change in usage?
Although rare, an import supply meter (meter which records consumption) may be affected by FIT installations. For example, if an import supply meter does not have a backstop fitted (so the import supply meter register rolls back when electricity is being exported) usage will fall. If a meter is configured to treat exported electricity as imported electricity (so the exported electricity is added to the amount imported) usage will rise.
Unless a customer has offered to supply an appropriate meter themselves, the energy company must ensure the installation and maintenance of an appropriate meter. It is expected that where the energy company is notified of an issue with import supply meters, it will take necessary steps to investigate and resolve this at the earliest opportunity, treating consumers fairly and in accordance with any relevant legislation. This would include re-billing usage based on available, undisputed meter reading information.
I think I’m eligible for FIT payments, but the FIT company disagrees and says there is a dispute over the ownership of the generating equipment. What should happen?
FIT companies are responsible for establishing that a FIT applicant is the owner of the eligible installation. FIT companies are required to obtain documented evidence that shows the relationship between the owner and the eligible installation. Examples include:
A receipt or other documentation stating ownership, or the transfer of ownership from the previously stated owner (invoices may be accepted if the values are redacted).
A copy of the sale and purchase agreement transferring ownership from one party to another as part of a property sale, or equivalent documentation showing the installation has been paid for in full.
A copy of a death certificate where required
Where ownership of an existing installation is disputed, the party disputing the ownership will need to provide evidence to support this claim to the FIT company. On receiving the evidence, the FIT company will need to assess its validity against that provided during the application process. The matter can, if necessary, then be escalated to a formal ownership dispute with the FIT company. If the customer remains unhappy with the actions of the FIT company, they have the option to escalate the matter to our service.
Who is responsible for contacting the FIT company if ownership changes during the eligibility period (the period in which an installation is entitled to receive payments) for a FIT installation?
The previous owner must inform the FIT company of the change as soon as reasonably possible. The new owner will need to provide evidence of the change in ownership to the FIT licensee, so this can be recorded and assessed.
I bought a house that has PV solar panels fitted but I am not sure who owns the equipment. Who do I contact to request information regarding the ownership of the solar panels?
A FIT company can only provide details of an installation when the person requesting it has a legitimate claim over the ownership of the installation. In situations where there is no legitimate claim, e.g. there is no evidence confirming that the customer owns the PV solar panels, the FIT company cannot provide the ownership information. If the information is missing surrounding the ownership of the installation you may be able to request this from the solicitor who arranged the sale.
My husband who was listed as the FIT generator account holder has passed away, can I take over the account and continue to receive the FIT payments?
Yes, you would need to submit meter readings and provide the relevant evidence to the FIT company. Each FIT company has its own ‘transfer of ownership’ form that will need to be completed in full. Supporting evidence will also need to be provided in line with the FIT company’s request.