All but 80 of the millions of smart meters so far installed in the UK are still first-generation meters which are likely to lose their 'smart' functionality if you switch energy provider, new figures reveal.

The Government is pushing energy firms to start installing next-generation 'SMETS2' meters, which retain their smart capability after switching, and last month announced that no more SMETS1 meters should be installed after October this year. A number of firms including E.on and SSE said they were in the early stages of rolling out SMETS2 meters.

Yet an answer to a Parliamentary question has revealed the startling stat that as of last week just 80 SMETS2 meters have been installed "in a live environment" across the whole of the UK, with around 370 more operating in test conditions. In total some 8.6 million smart meters had been installed by the end of last September, with almost 400,000 further meters being installed each month.

What are smart meters?

Smart gas and electricity meters, which are being installed by energy companies for free and should be offered to everyone in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020, give automatic meter readings which are sent straight to your supplier, theoretically ending estimated bills.

But first-generation SMETS1 meters usually stop working when you switch supplier, so you'll need to start doing manual meter readings again. SMETS2, the newer type, allow you to switch whilst keeping your meter's functionality.

If you do get a SMETS 1, switch and your smart meter becomes 'dumb', the plan is that in due course SMETS 1 meters can be remotely upgraded with software to allow them to meet SMETS 2 specifications. If that doesn't happen or the upgrade doesn't work for you though, there's a chance you'll have to arrange for an engineer to come and install a SMETS 2 meter to replace your SMETS 1.

For full info on how smart meters work and the pros and cons, see our Smart Meters guide.

What does the Government say?

In response to a written question from Labour MP Steve McCabe, Government Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry wrote: "The rollout of smart meters is making good progress, with nearly 400,000 meters installed every month and a total of 8.6 million meters already operating as of 30 September 2017.

"Industry information shows there are now around 450 SMETS2 meters connected to the DCC (Data Communications Company) system. Most of these are being operated in test conditions and around 80 have been installed in the live environment.

"Energy suppliers are continuing to test their systems ahead of a controlled ramp up on SMETS2 meters in the coming months."

A BEIS spokesperson said: “The new national smart metering network, run by the Data Communications Company, is an essential part of modernising our infrastructure to a smarter, more efficient energy system in Great Britain.

“2018 is a transition year, where energy suppliers will move from installing first generation to second generation smart meters at scale.”