Big six supplier SSE is planning to cut hundreds of jobs with “voluntary enhanced redundancy opportunities” for its customer service and metering teams.

A total of 444 jobs will be affected.

The energy giant said like a number of other suppliers it was “facing challenges” due to increased competition, the introduction of the default tariff cap and higher operating costs.

In a statement Tony Keeling, chief operating officer and co-head of retail at SSE Energy Services, said: “To run a sustainable business, we need to become more efficient and ensure we have the right number of employees in the right locations to best serve our customers.

“We are committed to engaging and consulting openly and transparently with colleagues, our trade union partners and appropriate employee representatives and have today announced voluntary enhanced redundancy opportunities for some of our customer service and metering teams.”

Unite the Union, which has more than 4,000 members at SSE, claimed 444 job losses had been announced – something SSE has denied.

Unite blamed the proposals on the “lack of take-up by consumers of smart meters”.

Unite national officer for energy and utilities Peter McIntosh said: “Today’s announcement by SSE is disappointing, but not unexpected.

“Unite will oppose any attempts by the company to introduce compulsory redundancies.

“Demand for smart meters to be fitted in households has not reached the levels expected by the company – hence the job losses announced by the SSE retail sector.

“This situation is as a result of yet another failed government policy. The smart metering programme should not have been left to the energy companies, as the 2020 deadline looms for every home in Britain to be offered a smart meter.

“It is clear that the government message on smart metering is not cutting through to the public and we call on Claire Perry as minister for energy and clean growth to refresh the campaign highlighting the energy saving benefits of having a smart meter.”

McIntosh added that Unite will “continue to work constructively” with the SSE management.

Last month British Gas owner Centrica announced around 500 jobs in the UK were at risk, with 400 looking likely to go in Scotland due to “growing challenges” including the price cap.

In January Npower announced around 900 jobs were due to be cut due to the “extremely tough UK retail energy market conditions”.

The big six supplier, which has a workforce of 6,300, said it is introducing a programme to reduce its operating costs, largely due to the price cap and intense competition on fixed price tariffs.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently revealed that smart meter installation activity by large energy suppliers was down by 16 per cent in the final quarter of 2018 compared with the same time a year earlier.

Speculation has been mounting about the future of SSE’s retail arm since the proposed merger with Npower collapsed last year.

In April SSE was reported to have approached Talk Talk about a deal, although both companies declined to comment on the matter.

SSE is expected to provide an update about SSE Energy Services on 22 May when it publishes its full year results.