The Daily Mail has launched a campaign calling on government to relax the rules for the 2020 deadline for the smart meter rollout.

The Stop The Smart Meter Bullying campaign by Money Mail, part of the Daily Mail group, revolves around the term ‘all reasonable steps’. The government has said suppliers must take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure every home has a smart meter fitted by 2020 – if they fail to meet the target, they face fines equal to 10 per cent of their worldwide sales. In the worst cases, the penalties could amount to over £7 billion.

But the newspaper claims this pressure has resulted in ‘bullying’ tactics and says it has been “inundated” with letters, emails and calls from readers who have felt pressured and intimidated into switching their analogue gas and electricity meters for digital versions.

It added most of its readers want to wait until the interoperable second generation SMETS2 meters are available, rather than installing a SMETS1 now and then having to upgrade it in the future.

It also mentioned there were privacy concerns about how energy suppliers plan to use consumer data, which it said have been heightened by the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The campaign wants the government to relax its targets for the rollout.

It said: “Ministers could either push back the 2020 deadline or reduce the number of homes in which they need to fit meters. For example, they could say suppliers must install them in only 80 per cent of homes and businesses by this time.

“Privately, energy firms say this would reduce the need for bullying tactics as they could more carefully target the customers who they think would be interested.”

The second part of the campaign calls on Ofgem to set out clear rules on what is and what is not an acceptable way to advertise the devices to customers.

The newspaper said: “Companies should have to state clearly — in large print on letters, emails, texts and during phone calls — that installing a smart meter is optional and that customers have the right to say no.”

It added the regulator must also prevent companies setting up installation appointments for customers who have not requested them, and ban firms from reserving their best energy prices for customers who have smart meters, as well as crack down on the use of incentives to persuade people to sign up.

In response to the story, Energy UK told Utility Week: “Customers have reported high levels of satisfaction overall for both the smart meter itself (80 per cent) and the installation visit (89 per cent).

“Energy companies are working hard to enable as many people as possible to experience the benefits that smart meters bring and to ensure the rollout is carried out safely, efficiently and cost-effectively. Some have trialled different approaches with their customers to increase engagement, and Energy UK is working with suppliers to develop a set of good-practice principles for customer communications on the smart meter rollout.”

Energy Minister Claire Perry said of the story: “Smart meters help customers save money, that is why we are we committed to ensuring that all consumers are offered the chance to upgrade by the end of 2020. Suppliers must treat customers fairly in how they communicate with them and we expect regulator Ofgem to ensure they do.”

Speaking in a parliamentary debate last month, she promised to “turbo charge” the rollout. 

 

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