They should provide consumers with much more detailed information about their energy usage, ensure people are billed accurately, and allow the millions who prepay for their energy to top up in the comfort of their living room. The government recently estimated that the transition to a smart energy system – including smart meters – will save the economy £17-40 billion by 2050.
However, the question of who benefits is a big one. Given all energy consumers will be paying for smart meters, we want all households benefit from them – not just the capable and technology savvy but also vulnerable people, including older and disabled people, and those who don’t use the internet. At the moment, we’re not confident energy suppliers – who are ultimately responsible for ensuring their consumers benefit – are providing the support that vulnerable people need.
In 2015, Citizens Advice’s research found that many suppliers were not sufficiently prepared to deal with consumer vulnerabilities in the smart meter rollout. Responses from some indicated they were confused as to whether they even needed a strategy to deal with vulnerable consumers, a worrying sign given the scale of the challenge industry faces between now and 2020.
In order to ensure everyone benefits from smart meters, we are calling on all suppliers to think particularly carefully about their aftercare offer. We know the installation, currently the main means for installers to help consumers learn how to use their meter, can be an overwhelming experience for some. People are given a large amount of information in a short period and it can be difficult to take in.
Suppliers need to be proactive in helping people to understand their new meter and In Home Display, whether through follow up visits and phone calls or by sending personalised hints and tips about how people can get the most out of their smart meter.
We are committed to improving this situation, and will soon be publishing a report highlighting some of the good practice from suppliers who have installed smart meters – which can be as simple as providing vulnerable customers with clearer information before the installation. It is important that suppliers make sure that as this new technology transforms how people to use and pay for their energy, nobody is left behind.