Energy firms hit those who refuse to have smart meters with higher bills

The penalty for refusing a smart meter is now costing households as much as £255 a year.Money Mail readers have surged forward to cry foul after we reported that energy suppliers were saving their best deals for those willing to have the gadgets installed.It means those who don’t want one are being punished with pricier bills for their gas and electricity.The installation of a smart meter is not a legal requirement, yet more than 100 of you wrote to us to complain that you had been denied a better deal simply because you didn’t want one.More than 50 of these letters and emails were from E.on customers. But the regulator is powerless to stop the surcharge — despite some firms admitting it is not fair. Here, Money Mail, speaks to customers who are angry at the smart meter penalty — and explains what you can do about it.‘Bullied and blackmailed’Retired hospital administrator Pat Pocock has to fork out an extra £120 a year because she doesn’t want a smart meter.The widow was paying £59 a month for gas and electricity with First Utility before it was acquired by Shell last year.When her tariff ended in April, she discovered the cheapest Shell deal would cost around £64 a month.But when Pat, who lives in the hamlet of Totties in West Yorkshire, read the small print she discovered that she would need to have a smart meter installed within six months.The cheapest deal without this requirement would see her monthly payments hiked to £74 — an extra £120 a year.Pat, 65, says: ‘It’s iniquitous — another example of how these companies try to bully and blackmail you into getting a smart meter. I’ve already been bombarded with calls and emails asking me to get one, but I know it is not illegal to refuse so I will not be pushed into getting one.’Pat is also worried that the mobile signal where she lives is not strong enough for a smart meter to work.A Shell spokesman says its smart meter-only offer has now ended and that customers can get all tariffs, regardless of their meter type. But many other suppliers have every intention of continuing to offer this type of smart meter-only deal.Energy firms are under immense pressure to install the devices in all homes by the end of next year and face multi-million-pound fines if they cannot prove they have taken all reasonable steps to do so.Some suppliers say offering a discount to customers who agree to have a smart meter is one way of ensuring they meet this requirement and avoid a fine. There are 14.3 million smart meters operating across homes and businesses in the UK, according to the latest official figures.This is still a long way off the Government target of replacing all 50 million of Britain’s analogue meters by the end of 2020.The roll-out has been dogged by blunders and delays. The first breed of meters often stop working when energy customers switch their supplier.Smart Energy GB, the body set up by the Government to promote the meters, says older versions (SMETS1) are still awaiting connection to a dedicated radio network. Once this has been done, the smart meters will be able to work in areas with poor mobile signal and customers will be able to switch easily.The body says that by the end of 2020 more than 99 pc of premises will have the signal required to get a smart meter.Forced to pay £255 moreE.ON charges Robert and Patricia Picton an extra £255 because they do not want a smart meter.The couple, from Bracknell, Berkshire, are paying £648 a year, but the tariff is due to finish at the end of the month.They have been told they can switch to a new, cheaper fixed deal at £629 a year, but they have to agree to a smart meter.If they refuse, the best tariff they can get will cost them £884 a year — an extra £255. Retired Ministry of Defence worker Robert, 76, was unable to find a cheaper deal elsewhere and reluctantly agreed to pay the premium.He says: ‘I was very disappointed when they told me I couldn’t sign up to that deal just because we didn’t want a smart meter.‘Frankly, being constantly told how much energy I’m using and how much it is costing me would drive me round the bend — I have quite enough stress from all the other technology in my life.’Energy firms claim they can offer better rates to those with smart meters because the devices save on administration costs by sending automatic meter readings.According to a government report in 2016, the smart meter rollout should save suppliers £8.25 billion in total.Around £2.99 billion of this sum is expected to be saved because smart meters should reduce the need for engineer visits, as meter readings won’t be necessary.And a further £1.21 billion should be saved because there should be fewer calls about estimated bills.However, some suppliers such as Bulb are happy to offer a single tariff to all households, whether they have a smart meter or not.Hayden Wood, co-founder of Bulb, says: ‘Forcing customers onto more expensive tariffs just isn’t right. Smart meters give you better information about your energy use — it’s sad to see some suppliers using them as a prop to jack up bills for families.’James Daley, of consumer group Fairer Finance, says: ‘If some suppliers are treating their customers differently, by only offering the best tariffs to households with smart meters, then they have to expect customers which don’t want one to vote with their feet.’Engineer never turned upSteve Ellis booked a smart meter installation at his Southsea, Hampshire, home two years ago.But the engineer working for his supplier, Ovo, never turned up and Steve did not want the hassle of organising another appointment.Steve and his wife Linda, 68, spend around £1,200 a year on gas and electricity. On their most recent bill it said they could save £81 a year by switching to a tariff with Lumo, Ovo’s sister company.But, again, the tariff is only available to customers who agree to have a smart meter — and you cannot have one already.Steve, 72, a retired small business owner, says: ‘After reading about all the problems some smart meter users have experienced, such as difficulties in switching suppliers, I decided not to have one installed.‘Energy firms are now obviously desperate to get their installation numbers up.’A Lumo spokesman says that as of August 2, having a smart meter was no longer a requirement to signing up to the tariff.Why won't the regulator help?Pensioner Sue Bird has called on energy watchdog Ofgem to step in to protect customers who don’t want a smart meter.The retired architectural technician is furious after Npower barred her from its cheapest deals because she didn’t want a smart meter. Sue, 66, had been paying Npower £1,032 a year for gas and electricity.As the end of the gas deal approached this m ...Read more

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