Consumer watchdog Citizens Advice has urged the government to push back its smart meter rollout deadline from 2020 to 2023, in light of concerns about the feasibility of the target date and worries about improper, rushed installations.
Under the current timeline, up to 53 million smart meters are to be installed in 30 million homes and businesses before the end of 2020, replacing traditional gas and electricity meters. The rollout, which is projected to cost £11 billion, is being financed by a levy on energy bills. In return, consumers are supposed to reap savings by being able to more accurately monitor their energy use.
11 million smart meters have already been installed, meaning an additional 32 million must be installed in the next 18 months to meet the 2020 deadline. Citizens Advice expressed concerns that a rush to meet the target data would lead to poor quality installations and compromised customer service.
“A poor quality customer experience risks undermining confidence and support for what is an important technology,” Victoria MacGregor, director of energy at Citizens Advice, wrote in a blog.
The watchdog said that 80% of people who have already had smart meters installed are satisfied with them but said it received 3,000 calls to its consumer helpline in 2017 about smart meters. Customer complaints included first-generation smart meters ‘going dumb’ after consumers switched providers, consumers still having to provide their energy suppler with manual meter readings, and energy companies employing aggressive sales tactics to encourage consumers to accept smart meters.
Citizens Advice called for more time to allow suppliers to resolve issues with first-generation meters losing functionality, especially when consumers switch suppliers, and to ensure installations are handled correctly.
Last month a report from a parliamentary group, the British Infrastructure Group, also cautioned that the government will likely miss its own 2020 deadline for the switchover and that annual savings for households are likely to be just £11.
The government today dismissed concerns that the rollout is being rushed.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Clair Perry said: “The rollout is making good progress with millions of households already enjoying a smart service. A further 400,000 meters are being installed every month and everyone who wants a smart meter will get one by the end of 2020.”
She said that any move to push back the deadline would “only delay” millions of households seeing benefits from a smarter energy system.
“We always listen to concerns raised by Citizens Advice,” she said. “However, the concerns they outline account for just 0.03% of the 11 million smart meters installed so far. Around 80% of people would recommend a smart meter to a friend or relative and 90% are happy with their installation.”
"Frankly, I don't want to do anything that means the energy companies can take their foot off the pedal, because I think this programme is worth a lot, both to British consumers and households, but also to the British energy system,” Perry told the BBC.
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