Smart meters: Everything you need to know

Smart meter on the wall of home interior showing current energy costs Design on screen my own. Please see property release.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a modern kind of electricity and gas meter. Unlike older meters, it sends readings directly to your supplier. This means your supplier won’t need to visit your home to do a meter reading, and you don’t need to take a reading yourself. As a result, there are no more estimated bills.

Many smart meters come with an In-Home Display (IHD). This shows you how much energy you’re using, which can help you manage your energy more efficiently.

Both gas and electricity meters can be smart. A pre-payment meter can also be smart.

Why are smart meters being rolled out?

Smart meters are part of the plan to improve the efficiency of the national energy network. By knowing more about how much energy is being used at different times, suppliers can match supply to demand more effectively. They may also offer lower-priced tariffs during times when they know fewer people are using electricity.

Should I get a smart meter?

A smart meter could help you make better decisions about how you use energy. The In Home Display will show you which activities use the most energy. This allows you to make simple changes to help save energy and pay less on your electricity and/or gas bills.

If you want to switch electricity and gas supplier, the data collected by your smart meter can help you find the cheapest tariff for your energy use.

A smart meter may be right for you if you want:

  • To end the hassle of taking meter readings
  • A visual display of your electricity and/or gas usage
  • More accurate bills
  • To top-up your pre-payment meter by phone, online or through an app.

You may not want a smart meter if you:

  • Worry about sharing your electricity and/or gas consumption with your supplier
  • Don’t get good mobile phone signal in your home.

Do I have to have one?

No. Energy suppliers should offer everyone a smart meter, but you don’t have to accept. If you do have one put in, then you can choose to have it removed any time.

Are there different types of smart meter?

Yes. There are two.

The first generation of smart meters were called SMETS1. If you switched energy supplier, then the meter lost its smart function. As a result, you couldn’t keep track of your energy usage. You also had to start taking meter readings again.

The newer models are called SMETS2. Unlike SMETS1 meters, SMETS2 meters are connected to the national smart meter network. This means they keep their smart function if you switch supplier.

The first SMETS2 meters were installed in May 2019. If you’ve had a smart meter installed in the past two years, it’s very likely to be the type which stays smart if you switch.

There’s also an ongoing drive to move SMETS1 meters to the smart meter network. This means that even SMETS1 meters will stay smart if you switch suppliers. Millions of the older smart meters have already been added to the network. Energy suppliers are currently working on the rest.

What happens when my smart meter is installed?

When someone comes to install your smart meter, they must:

  • Explain how the smart meter works and tell you how you can use it to make better use of your energy
  • Tell you if your meter will stay smart if you decide to change your energy supplier

They must not:

  • Sell you anything while they are in your home

The cost of getting a smart meter installed is covered by everyone’s electricity and gas bills. You won’t pay any extra.

Is my personal data safe?

A smart meter tells your electricity and/or gas supplier about how you use your gas and electricity. However, you control how your data is used:

  • You can choose how often your smart meter sends information to your energy supplier (at least once a month, but no more than once every half hour)
  • Your supplier may collect one reading per day (which you can refuse), but must ask to collect anything more detailed
  • Suppliers may not use your data for marketing without your permission
  • Suppliers may not see the detailed data shown on your in-home display without your permission.

Remember, you can refuse:

A smart meter

Daily meter readings

Half hourly readings

Can I get a smart meter if…

Yes. Smart meters communicate with suppliers using a secure network like the one used by your mobile phone.

If you pay the electricity and/or gas bills and they’re addressed to you, you can decide whether to get a smart meter. However, you may wish to speak to your landlord first. If your landlord pays the energy bill, then it’s up to them to decide whether to put in a smart meter.

Possibly. It’s best to check this with your supplier.

Yes. Smart meters may make pre-payment tariffs cheaper in future. Smart meters will also allow new ways to top-up your meter by phone, online or through an app.

Some solar-panel owners have had problems getting smart meters put in. If you’re getting a smart meter installed, make sure your energy supplier is aware you have solar panels.

I have a smart meter:

It may take a while for the readings to be submitted automatically to the supplier. Allow up to a few weeks for the system to start working. If you still receive estimated bills after this, then your meter may not be working properly, and you should contact your energy supplier.  If you pay by direct debit or an annual payment plan, then your supplier estimates how much electricity and/or gas you’ll use over a year and splits this into 12 equal amounts. You will receive monthly statements (not bills) showing your exact energy usage.   You can choose to pay for your exact energy usage at the end of each month. This could mean paying more in colder months and less in warmer months. You should ask your supplier to arrange this.

If you had estimated bills before getting a smart meter, then you may get a ‘back-bill’ if the amount of electricity and/or gas you used is higher than the amount you paid for. Depending on the circumstances, suppliers can’t back-bill further back than 12 months and should offer a payment plan.

If you think your readings are wrong, then your supplier can have it inspected. If it shows that your meter is working correctly and you requested the inspection, then you will have to pay for the inspection. You could also buy an energy monitor to check your electricity meter, such as Owl or Efergy, but these may not be as accurate as an inspection carried out by your supplier. If you doubt your meter readings then you should contact your supplier, who can carry out checks. They can also pass your complaint on to the power grid operator.