It would cost just £18 per property to fit an isolator with every smart meter – energy suppliers should do it.

Energy firms have a once in a lifetime opportunity to address a number of customer service issues en masse with the smart meter rollout. The question is, will they be brave enough to invest just a little bit extra as a future investment in customer goodwill?
One such issue surrounds property de-energisation – for example, if the consumer unit needs replacing or moving. There are 400,000 temporary de-energisations every year. To de-energise a property now, either the electrician or property owner has to call out the utility provider, first to remove the cut-out fuse and then at a later time to replace it. This often results in delay and typically costs the customer £35 to £45 per visit or £70 to £90 in total.
There are alternatives, but only one is legal, which is to arrange for the electricity company to fit an isolator between the meter and the consumer unit so the electrician can de-energise the property. Such isolators are generally fitted in new-build properties but are rarely retrofitted because you still need to call out the provider and pay for the installation, which costs in the region of £130.
What tends to happen in practice is that the electrician will remove and replace the cut-out fuse. This is potentially dangerous and also leaves the electrician or homeowner liable for prosecution for energy theft.
The smart meter rollout provides an ideal opportunity to address the issue, given that energy companies will be visiting properties anyway. The Electrical Safety Council outlines four possible options:
1.    Incorporate a manually operated single pole switch in the smart meter allowing a competent person, such as an electrician, to isolate the supply.
2.    Use the solution already used in new-build properties and install a separate double-pole isolating switch at the same time as installing the smart meter.
3.    Introduce a system to authorise competent non-­industry personnel to withdraw cut out fuses (expensive and endangers revenue, given wider circulation of sealing pliers used in cut out fuses).
4.     Leave things as they are.
It is common sense to solve this issue once and for all while utilities have access to properties. An existing proven solution already exists in option 2, so even if option 1 is discounted, it should be simple process and cost just an extra £18.
The alternative is a lot of angry and frustrated customers.
Paul Collins, technical manager, Hager