Citizens Advice has reported a stream of complaints from harassed customers, who say they have been hit with a barrage of texts, emails, letters and phone calls from energy companies wanting them to get a smart meter.
In a statement released by Citizens Advice, energy firms were accused of misleading consumers by telling them smart meters are a legal requirement, which is both not true and a breach of consumer law.
A letter sent by one supplier said: “We have a legal requirement to change your meter.”
In other cases, engineers have reportedly been sent out to households despite the occupiers repeatedly insisting they did not want a smart meter.
Michael Coote, a 74-year old retired engineer, told Citizens Advice he received a letter that was both “frightening and bullying” in tone.
This is not the first release from Citizens Advice surrounding smart meter installation complaints. Last March it said the number of disgruntled customers coming forward on the issue had almost trebled in three years. The top three areas mentioned were: bills or usage increasing and/or backdated billing following the installation of a meter; perceived inability to switch suppliers or difficulty in switching following installation; and inaccurate information and sales practices of suppliers.
Victoria MacGregor, director of energy at Citizens Advice, said in the latest release: “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 towards their customers and not to use misleading or aggressive sales practices.”
In response, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has written to Energy UK, which represents all energy suppliers, to raise concerns about the way firms are marketing the meters. It warned in the letter they may be breaking regulations drawn up in 2008 to protect consumers from unfair trading, if they create the false impression that customers have no choice but to switch.
Steve Playle of CTSI, said: “Firms are getting more and more aggressive in the way they are marketing smart meters to customers. We will take further action if complaints continue to come in.”
When questioned, Smart Energy GB confirmed smart meters are not an obligation. Robert Cheesewright, director of policy and communications, said: “The smart meter rollout will benefit everyone by bringing down energy bills, upgrading our national grid and delivering savings of £6billion to the British economy by 2030 – but there’s no obligation for anyone to have one – whether you accept a smart meter is completely up to you.”
Elsewhere, Baroness Altmann, former pensions minister, said it was unacceptable for energy firms to mislead people and inflict “unnecessary hassle”.
And a spokesperson for Ofgem said in a statement: “It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed – consumers have a right to decline them and suppliers must not mislead consumers.”