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Smart meter rollout halted amid fears new devices are 'too smart for their own good'

Smart meter rollout halted amid fears new devices are 'too smart for their own good'

Update: 12.01pm, Mon 1 April: Ooops, this story isn't correct. Sorry, we made a FOOL of ourselves by publishing it...

The national smart meter rollout has been temporarily halted after ministers raised concerns that newer devices were becoming "too smart for their own good" and in some cases could take control of other networked household electronics such as TVs, radios and speaker systems.

First- and second-generation smart meters, known as 'SMETS1' and 'SMETS2', are thought to pose little risk to the general public. In fact, many SMETS1 meters can't even cope when a household switches energy supplier – they go 'dumb' after a switch and no longer have any smart functionality.

But a Whitehall impact assessment has found some brand-new third-generation devices which are being trialled are so intelligent they are beginning to interfere with their owners' day-to-day lives.

Energy firms have been told to stop installing smart meters for the time being while experts investigate the problem. But if you've already been issued with a third-generation meter, energy firms have issued clear instructions on what you need to do to disable its 'smart capabilities' safely – see full help below.

What are the smart meters doing?

MoneySavingExpert.com has received emails and social media messages from a number of concerned smart meter owners over the past few days.

The third-generation smart meters appear to be malfunctioning in a variety of ways. And while there doesn't seem to be any clear pattern overall, reports we've seen suggest there may be some regional variation.

One family of MoneySavers based in the Oxford area claimed their meter had twice changed the TV channel to tune into University Challenge, and had once even blurted out an answer via an Amazon Echo smart speaker.

Another MoneySaver in Glasgow told us their smart meter appeared to have developed patriotic tendencies, and on several occasions had set 'Flower of Scotland' to start playing through the household speaker system.

If your smart meter appears to be acting independently and interacting with other household items in unexpected ways, email us at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

I have a third-generation meter – what should I do?

At the moment there's no need to panic. Although some meters have shown signs of doing more than they are designed to do, there's no evidence that they've developed the power to overrule humans at this stage.

Nevertheless, energy firms are warning customers to act carefully and err on the side of caution – don't just smash your meter with a hammer! Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Slowly unplug your meter from the mains. While you're doing this, don't make any sudden or unexpected movements – just try to act how you normally would around it. 

  2. Get two small pieces of soft material (denim or a twill fabric will do), and stick these to the bottom of your device. They should dangle off and reach the floor, almost like legs.

  3. Now get a larger piece of material (ideally polyester or cotton) and cover the screen or body of your meter, making sure nothing is sticking out of either side. It may be advisable to cut a small, breathable slit into the top, like a V-neck T-shirt.

When you've done this, your device should no longer cause any problems – you'll have converted it into what's known as a 'smart casual meter'.

It will now have essentially the same capabilities as a more traditional gas or electricity meter, but with a more relaxed, or 'cool', vibe.

'My smart meter turned off The Jeremy Kyle Show'

Smart meter owner Polly C. Holder told MoneySavingExpert that she had reported her device to the Government after it begun to interfere with her daytime TV schedule.

She said: "Each morning for the past 10 years I've turned on The Jeremy Kyle Show and there have never been any problems. But a couple of weeks ago, it started switching itself off mid-showing.

"Then simultaneously, a sort of paperclip-like figure would appear in the corner of my smart meter's screen saying: 'It looks like you're trying to watch some informative and exhilarating ITV original programming, would you like some help?' When I said 'yes', a message then popped up saying 'Thank you, the Martin Lewis Money Show will be recorded from 8pm'."

While smart meters changing the channel may seem like a minor inconvenience for some, there are fears that they could start ordering takeaways for themselves, letting delivery drivers into properties and even displace politicians by developing a solution to the Irish backstop issue.

When MoneySavingExpert contacted an industry body to ask for comment on the complaints, a spokesperson said: "We've had a number of reports of smart meters behaving in unusual ways – in particular, there seems to be an issue with meters muting TVs whenever anyone mentions Brexit."

"The rollout has been postponed while the issue is investigated, and in the meantime households will be asked to send in weekly meter readings by post – it's the only safe way."