The roll-out of next generation smart meters which allow you to switch energy provider without losing their smart features is likely to be delayed, after the Government announced energy firms will be allowed to keep installing first-generation smart meters for an extra three months.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had originally said that from 13 July energy firms would only be allowed to install the new switchable smart meters, but it has now said this has been delayed until 5 October.

The delay is due to some companies not being ready to roll out the second generation smart meters, but some firms are likely to begin installing them before October.

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What are smart meters?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters, able to send automatic meter readings - putting an end to estimated bills - and give you near real-time information on your energy usage on the in-home display you'll be offered alongside the meter itself. Read more in our guide to Smart Meters.

Suppliers have already installed 8.6 million first generation smart meters - they've been gradually offering them and you can also ask for one if you're keen (though not all suppliers have started offering them yet). Under current plans, every home and small business will be offered one by 2020.

The delay to the second generation roll-out means energy firms can continue to install the first generation meters - known as SMETS 1 (Smart Metering Equipment Technical Standard) - which usually go 'dumb' once you switch supplier, essentially reverting to a traditional meter, as they can't send meter readings automatically to your new supplier.

The new version of the meter - known as SMETS 2 - solves this problem, as the meters are connected to a new central communication network, meaning it will retain its smart features if you switch supplier.

When are energy firms rolling out the new smart meters?

Smaller companies are allowed to wait to install SMETS 2 meters, but here's what the big six energy providers have told us:

  • British Gas - yet to receive a response.
  • EDF says it is well underway with testing the new SMETS 2 meters, with pilot installations in progress and mass rollout expected in 2018.
  • E.on began installing the new smart meters towards the end of last year, and is confident it will be able to launch a full rollout in the coming months.
  • Npower is still in the pilot stage. It says the rollout of SMETS 2 meters is taking longer than originally planned due to delays in the national communication network.
  • Scottish Power - yet to receive a response.
  • SSE is in the early stages of rolling out SMETS 2 meters to customers and expects to increase installations over the coming months.

Why has the rollout been delayed?

A BEIS spokesperson said it has postponed the deadline so "customers can continue to feel the benefits of smart meters and suppliers can be completely ready to roll out SMETS 2."

The delay is essentially to stop a blackout period during which energy firms would have to stop installing old versions, but are not ready to roll out the second generation meters.

'Switchable' smart meters delayed

I've already got a smart meter - can I still switch energy providers?

Yes, but if you've already had a smart meter installed it's likely that if you switch away from the supplier that installed it, you'll need to go back to giving manual meter readings.

However, this shouldn't stop you from switching - most can save more than 300/year by swapping supplier. To check you're always on a cheap deal, join our Cheap Energy Club.

My smart meter has gone 'dumb' after switching energy providers - when will this change?

If you've switched energy providers and found your smart meter has lost its smart features, this should eventually be fixed.

The plan is for all existing meters to be upgraded remotely to allow them to work with any supplier, without the need for an engineer visit though we dont know when this will happen.

Should I wait to get a smart meter?

First up, if you're offered a smart meter, it's worth checking whether it's a SMETS 1 or SMETS 2 meter.

If you want one which will stay smart after you switch, you'll need a SMETS 2 - so if you're offered a SMETS 1, you'll need to weigh up whether it's best to wait.

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 - annoying and inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

Alternatively, you can always request the meters at a later date - just ring up your supplier and ask.

If you don't want a smart meter at all, you don't have to - they're not mandatory and you've every right to refuse. If you are told otherwise or feel pressured into having one, let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

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