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Smart meter myth busting

30 May 2019 ( 20 December 2019 )

We’ve pulled together a list of the most common myths and the facts behind the new technology to help you decide whether or not a smart meter is right for your home.

A smart meter recording the home's power usage on a table

If you get a smart meter you can't switch energy supplier

The new second-generation smart meters allow uninterrupted switching between suppliers.

The first-generation meters can temporarily lose some of their smart functionality following a switch, but this just means you may have to read the meters yourself for a little while. It’s definitely not a barrier to switching and soon all smart meters will be on a single, national communication network that will cover 99% of Britain.

Smart meters are bad for the environment 

Smart meters can’t solve climate change on their own but with the smarter, more energy efficient grid they help to create, they’re a start. The data that smart meters are able to generate allows our energy network to understand how much is being used, when and where across Great Britain. This is crucial for enabling us to integrate renewable energy into as cost effectively as possible.

Request a smart meter and you’ll be contributing to the creation of a smarter energy grid and a cleaner, greener future.

Why it pays to go green

Smart meters can spy on you

A smart meter can't spy on you any more than a traditional meter could. It doesn't have the capacity to see or hear, it can only measure the amount of energy you use. You choose how often you share your meter readings with your energy supplier ranging from monthly, daily or half hourly.

Smart meters were designed in consultation with the UK's top security experts, including GCHQ. They're not connected to the internet - they have their own secure wireless network. Personal details like your name, address and bank account details are not stored on, or transmitted by, your smart meter. What’s more, your supplier can't use any data from your smart meter for sales and marketing purposes unless you give them permission to do so.

Is your car spying on you?

Smart meters save you money

A smart meter alone will not save you money, but will instead provide information and motivation to enable you to make small changes in behaviour to bring your energy bills down.

If you rent your home, you can’t get a smart meter

The gas and electricity meter in your home belongs to your energy supplier and if you pay the bills then you are entitled to ask them for a smart meter. 

However, Ofgem the government regulator for energy suppliers, recommends telling your landlord before getting one just in case you're breaching your contract. 

As a landlord, if you pay the energy bills directly for your tenants and are the account holder, then you can confirm or request a smart meter for your property from your supplier.

Saga Home Insurance provides cover that goes beyond what you might expect. For more information and to get a quote click here.

Not all homes can have a smart meter

At the moment smart meters connect through existing mobile networks and according to Ofcom, just 88% of premises receive data from mobile networks. The new national communications network will cover more than 99.25%, which means almost all homes including flats, old houses with very thick walls and remote dwellings, will all be able to have smart meters.

How to cut your energy bills

Smart meters pose a radiation risk and are bad for your health

According to Dr Azadeh Peyman, principal radiation protection scientist at Public Health England (PHE), the Government watchdog on public health, smart meters DON’T pose a risk to health. 

She said: "The level of radio waves they produce is typically one million times less than the internationally agreed guidelines." 

The myth has arisen because smart meters use short bursts of radio waves to allow readings to be taken remotely from gas and electricity meters. Some people fear that the radiation they emit is a health risk, but PHE have stated they are safe and exceed every EU and UK safety standard. 

Dr Peyman continues: "Smart meters have a very small power output and they transmit radio waves infrequently. In fact, most of the time there's no transmission. We don't consider that concerns regarding exposure should prevent people from having a smart meter."

The smart meter uses large amounts of energy itself

Neither a gas or electricity smart meter will cost you money to run. The in-home display that shows your spending and energy use in near real time will use a miniscule amount of power if plugged in, around £1 a year or 8.3p a month. What’s more, getting a smart meter will not increase your bills simply by being installed.

Smart meters only benefit the energy companies

Smart meters are an important step in modernising the UK's energy grid, and will benefit everyone. As well as helping establish the smart grid, they can help people cut their energy costs and decrease the environmental impact of every home. Not only will the smart grid enable an increase in the reliability of renewable energy, but will also help facilitate the continued rollout of electric vehicles.

Smart meters are also already allowing cheaper tariffs for customers, as energy companies have been able to cut costs due to the accurate and automatic billing smart meters enable.

Energy wasting habits around the home

Smart meters will let energy companies cut off your supply at will

A smart meter doesn’t give the ability for an energy company to disconnect you at will.

People with smart meters are protected by exactly the same strict regulations that protect anyone with a traditional meter relating to an energy supplier switching off or disconnecting their gas or electricity supplies.

Your energy supplier cannot disconnect you without first visiting your home to assess your situation and see how a disconnection might affect you. They must also have discussed options for you to pay back any debt, for example through a prepayment plan, but they cannot arbitrarily change you onto a prepayment scheme.

Saga Home Insurance provides cover that goes beyond what you might expect. For more information and to get a quote click here.

You can just buy an equivalent off the internet and ignore the supplier rollout

Although energy monitors can provide a similar function to the in-home display that comes with a smart meter, they will not be able to link to your exact tariff scheme or accurate current spend.

They also do not replace your meters, and will not enable advantages like automatic meter reading or cheaper smart meter only tariffs.

Smart meters will lead to compulsory time-of-use tariffs and raise everyone’s bills

There is no plan for a mass rollout of time-of-use tariffs, and neither is there an objective for suppliers to use smart meter date to increase bills during peak hours.

Smart meters may enable time-of-use tariffs in the future, but these are currently very rare and actually lead to lower bills for the select few who wish to sign up, such as those who work at home or have an electric vehicle that requires charging.

Buying a used electric car

Saga readers asked...

What is the situation with homes that have solar panels fitted?

Smart meters have been designed to a specification which allows them to work alongside solar panels, wind turbines or any other micro-generation.

At the moment, most solar generation meters are analogue so don’t yet communicate to smart energy meters. This means your in-home display will not currently be able to reflect any energy you have generated and sold back to the grid.

Your in-home display will show you how much energy you are drawing from the grid and what it’s costing you, which will be in line with the bill from your energy supplier.

If you have a micro-generation supplier which processes your payments for energy you have contributed to the grid, they will continue to do this separately as they do now.

Regardless of whether you use micro-generation, a smart meter will always show you what you’re spending on energy. You will not be over or undercharged for energy because you have micro-generation capabilities.

If it costs £1 a year to run the monitor, then that is an increase in my bill. It's also a sneaky way of turning your gas supply off if your appliances are deemed unsafe, and estimating a bill if your transmission goes off - and probably increasing it!

The £1 per year figure only applies if you keep the in-home display plugged in and fully charged. Your smart meter will continue to function even if the in-home display has been unplugged and placed in a drawer. However, doing this means you will miss out on some of the advantages of your smart meter.

If your smart meter loses smart functionality for any reason, it will continue to function as an energy meter but may mean a return to estimated bills and the need to submit manual meter readings.

There are strict protections in place that prevent an energy supplier from remotely disconnecting your energy supply. These protections are the same regardless of the type of the meter you have at home. A smart meter will not change your rights in any way.

The only time an appliance would be ‘disconnected’ is if during the installation safety check a device was found to be faulty or dangerous. We would strongly recommend that anyone using an appliance condemned by a qualified engineer ceases to do so and carries out the necessary maintenance as soon as possible.

I had a so-called "smart" meter fitted some years ago but when I switched the new energy company could not read it! I had another one installed 5 weeks ago resulting in being told that my gas hob should not be used - something I have ignored. The readings on the meter are meaningless and I am still being asked to provide readings because apparently it takes 5-6 weeks for the software to catch up

Some first-generation smart meters lose their smart functionality when switched to a new supplier. First-generation smart meters that have lost smart functions will be enrolled into a smart data network ‘over the air’ allowing them to communicate with all suppliers, without the need for a further visit from an engineer. Government and the industry are currently working on the detailed plans and timetable for how this will happen.

To reiterate the point above, in the case of the gas hob, we would strongly recommend that anyone using an appliance condemned by a qualified engineer ceases to do so and carries out the necessary maintenance as soon as possible.

I am completely against having a smart meter fitted. If I refuse point blank to allow anyone to fit one, but someone does fit one and I rip it out, what then?

Smart meters are not compulsory and it is your choice whether to have one fitted. What’s more, a smart meter cannot be installed in your property without the bill payer’s permission.

If you move into a home where smart meters are already installed and you require this to be changed, you have two options. You can request that your energy supplier switches your meter to operate in traditional mode, disabling all smart functionality, or you can ask your supplier to remove it. If you decide to have your smart meter removed you may be charged by your supplier.

You should never attempt to remove any form of energy meter from your home, whether it is an old analogue or smart meter. Not only is tampering with or removing a meter without having the necessary accreditation illegal, it could result in serious injury if not done properly.

I currently have an Economy 7 meter fitted that of course gives two sets of readings, - High/Low or 1/2. I am with a supplier that applies the same tariff to both readings. Not all suppliers will do this. How does the smart meter handle the fact that I no longer need an E7 meter but may want to change back sometime in the future?

Smart meters have been designed to be capable of switching between credit and prepayment mode as well as a variety of tariffs, including Economy 7. Smart meters that can replace an Economy 7 meter are currently being developed and will be offered by suppliers before the end of the smart meter rollout. These will enable switching between economy 7 and standard tariffs. Your smart meter will record your energy usage and send this to your supplier in the form of a meter reading, allowing them to apply your chosen tariff and ensure you are billed correctly.

My concern is that some unscrupulous person somewhere in the system (be that the supplier or elsewhere) might be able to establish that you are not using energy and haven’t been for X number of days, therefore surmising the house/flat is sitting empty, and therefore ‘worth a look’ to assess it for burglary!

No smart meter deployed across Great Britain has ever been hacked. Smart meters were designed with security at their heart and have several levels of individual encryption to stop an unauthorised party from accessing an individual meter. In the highly unlikely event that a burglar managed to breach the GCHQ designed encryption they would then have to identify where the smart meter is (your name and address are not stored on the meter) and monitor meter readings (the only information stored on the meter apart from your tariff), to establish a baseline and then build a profile to identify if the property was empty.

Far from being a security risk, smart meters mean that meter readers will no longer call, removing the often used cover by distraction burglars to enter properties claiming to be there to read the meter.

You can be cleaner and greener with your energy use by getting a smart meter installed and using it to reduce your energy consumption. If you are interested in getting a smart meter, call 0300 131 8000 or search ‘I want a smart meter’ online. Calls from UK landlines & mobiles charged at a standard rate.

Saga Home Insurance provides cover that goes beyond what you might expect. For more information and to get a quote click here.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.