The Government’s ambition is for everyone in England, Scotland and Wales to use a smart meter. With many energy deals now requiring smart meters, what exactly are they, should you get one, and what happens if you switch?

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are the next-generation of gas and electricity meters offering a number of benefits over traditional meters:

  • Automatic meter readings. You get one meter for gas and one for electricity; usually placed where your existing meters are.
  • No more estimated bills. The meters send your usage directly to your supplier(s), so you only pay for what you use.
  • In-home display showing usage in pounds and pence. Everyone who gets smart meters will also be offered an ‘in-home display’. It’s a small gadget that communicates wirelessly with your smart meters, monitoring what energy you’re using and showing you how much it costs, in near real time. It gives readings in pounds and pence, and kilowatt hours (kWh), so it can help you identify where you can cut back.

There are two different models of smart meters

  • SMETS 1: This is the first generation of smart meter technology, known as SMETS 1 (‘Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications’). They communicate with your supplier over the 3G network. When you switch energy supplier, it’s likely they will lose some functionality. These are no longer being installed and work is being done to upgrade them to make them retain functionality if you switch suppliers. 
  • SMETS 2: If you’ve arranged to have a smart meter installed, you’ll likely get a second-generation SMETS 2 meter. These use their own communications systems via a central data network to which all suppliers have access. So when you switch, your new supplier should be able to see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display should show you your usage with the new supplier’s costs.

All suppliers will eventually be required to offer you them, but smart meters are NOT mandatory. You can always change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date, simply contact your supplier to ask.

Some suppliers – particularly the big six – are now making smart meters a condition of getting their cheapest deals (dependant on your eligibility).

For smaller companies, check the campaign group Smart Energy GB’s smart meter page, which will direct you to information on your provider’s plans. If your supplier’s not there, contact it to ask about it’s plans, as some smaller firms are not offering them in all areas right now.

Suppliers won’t install your smart meter if anyone in your household is self-isolating, is in a higher-risk group or has had symptoms in the last month.

If you’re on a tariff that requires smart meters, precautions are in place for home visits and you don’t have to get them fitted until you feel comfortable letting an engineer in your home.

Can I get a smart meter if I am renting?

Yes. If you pay the bills and they’re addressed to you, you can choose to have one installed. However, Ofgem recommends you tell your landlord before you get one. That’s because there may be rules in your tenancy agreement about how energy is supplied to the property, including the type of meter that can be installed. If your gas and electricity is included in your rent and your landlord receives the bills, they will probably need to sort it for you as the gas and electric accounts will be in their name.

Speak to us about smart meters

Throughout August to November, we will be visiting local spots in our ‘urban advice vehicle’; ready to answer questions you have on smart meters; to help you to better understand what they are about, how they work and whether one is right for you. For more information, please email us at smartmeters@citizensadvicebcp.org.uk