Smart meter display and instructions

How Smart is Your Meter?

Nicola Biggerstaff

It was revealed this week that the UK Government will be cracking down on energy companies forcibly entering the homes of customers struggling to pay their energy bills to install pre-payment meters. This practice involving court issued warrants is not only unethical in the current climate, but also puts further strain on the finances of those already struggling by forcing on them the more expensive option in the long run.

About 78,000 customers in England and Wales were found to have been switched to a pre-payment meter in a Freedom of Information request to Ofgem. It makes me fear for what they would get away with in Scotland if they could, or if they already have.

In a letter to Ofgem, the Business Secretary Grant Shapps proposed other measures to reign in the power of energy companies, as it came to light that some of those being cut off for failure to pay included many disabled consumers, who will have been left much more vulnerable in colder temperatures.

We are witnessing unprecedented difficult times. The combination of sky high inflation, sky high interest rates and incompetent governance have left us in comparative ruins to the economic difficulties of the eighties and nineties. Yes, people legitimately struggled back then, no one can deny that, but even food banks were all but a twinkle in a Tory’s eye back then. How have we now come to a point where Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, instead of giving us advice on the best credit cards and package holiday deals, is now having to produce guides to staying warm without central heating, and informing us what low enough temperatures we can keep our heating on before it adversely affects our health?!

Pre-payment meters may be the blunt solution to debt recovery, but they are not the way forward in a caring society. I can personally attest to the financial drain they cause. In my previous flat, a loft conversion in a building which was over 100 years old with no insulation, the pre-payment meter came as standard in my landlord’s properties, a display of power that irks me to this day. It was okay at first, in the middle of summer, £30 in per month was more than adequate.

Then winter hit, then the energy crisis hit, then the cost of living crisis hit. By the time I handed in my notice, I was spending upwards of £150 per month and receiving very little benefit. This was while I was rationing my heating to an hour per day, taking cold showers, sometimes even working by candle and blue light on the worst days last winter. And yet, it was still one of the biggest drains on my finances after rent. It was wholly unsustainable, and my heart goes out to those who now have this predicament forced upon them by companies who are, once again, putting profit before people. Vulnerable people. People who are going to become extremely ill, or worse, as a direct result.

Memories of watching the pounds drain away on the display unit while I still sat shivering and wrapped in blankets are seared into my head. By the time I moved, I was completely disillusioned. I had no grasp of the true cost of anything in the worst way. I assumed everything would be unaffordable and spent weeks toiling over whether I had made the right decision to move in the first place. What if it just got worse? Current tariffs for all energy companies are beyond ridiculously priced, and comparison site services for energy bills have been suspended in the wake of this permacrisis. I eventually found one a fraction cheaper than the rest, and booked my appointment for a free smart meter installation.

I have had a lot of fun the past few days, spending more time than would be considered normal flicking switches on and off then running to see how much it will cost on the display unit. With just a fridge and boiler running: 3p an hour. My working space, with laptop, lamp and wires coming out my ears: that’s an extra 4p an hour. To cook lunch; with kettle, pot, and air fryer all on the go at once, it would shoot up to £1.34 an hour.

The installing engineer was contractually obliged to give me some energy saving tips on his way out the door, before realising most of them were pretty redundant in the face of today’s circumstances, as most of us were already employing them. Don’t dry clothes on the radiator, switch off the lights when you leave the room, have you tried leaving your oven open after cooking to disperse some extra heat? He reminded me that I’ve struck lucky living in a block: should things get desperate, I can always sponge the heat from my surrounding neighbours to stay comfortable. He wasn’t half right!

The shock when I discovered I didn’t have to constantly have the heating on to stay warm, that first time opening the front door and feeling warmer than outside was nothing short of bliss. I even discovered I had internal insulation when my attempt to remove old bathroom tiles went awry. Everything has worked out just fine, but I am undoubtedly, once again, one of the very, very lucky ones.  

Only when there is a radical shift in public and governmental attitudes towards energy and climate will this get any better. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, I can’t recommend enough getting a smart meter for your home. Not least because it makes you more aware than ever the true cost of existing in your home, and perhaps this could motivate us all to reach a little higher, create a little more pressure to action a little more change.

4 thoughts on “How Smart is Your Meter?”

  1. Ian Davidson

    Haud on! What if power supplier uses smart meter to effectively “install” a pre payment charging system for your fuel without having to enter your property?

    1. Ian Davidson

      Power companies exist to maximise profits. The more energy we consume + higher the price, the greater the profits. The decision to move from consumers receiving energy + paying later to paying in advance was taken by energy companies a while back, certainly mentioned in internal briefings by one major supplier in 2006. The energy supply market is a regulated oligopoly.
      Energy conservation, switching supplier, smart meters etc are, in the final analysis, distractions from the inescapable energy matrix?

  2. I had a smart meter in my previous house (built 1945). Soon after the gas supply cut off. I called out an engineer who restored it and a few hours later it happened again. The next engineer blamed the smart meter and said they weren’t designed to deal with older installations. I removed the smart meter and there were no further problems. Haven’t had one since..

  3. No one seems to be addressing the injustice that those with pre-payment meters are required to buy energy at a higher price. This is something that should be outlawed – if anything there is an argument that the price for those on pre-payment meters should be marginally lower since those customers can not run up what becomes ‘bad debt’.

    I would add that it is wrong to say that “Pre-payment meters may be the blunt solution to debt recovery” – they prevent customers falling into debt (or more debt) rather than help them repay previous debts. If having pre-payment meters did not mean that customers were paying higher prices for energy, I could imagine that a number of people would choose to have them to help ensure they did not end up with debts they could not pay when the bills finally came through their letter boxes.

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