So you get a call from your energy supplier, offering you a new ‘smart’ meter that can take the hassle out of paying your bills. It can send automatic meter readings – no more estimated bills, and no more need to give meter readings online or over the phone.
You also get a neat little wireless device that shows your energy use in near real time, in kilowatt hours (kWh) and pounds and pence.
But then you’re told that if you switch supplier your smart meter may stop working.
We’ve heard from many of you, shocked by this. One of the most common questions we get on smart meters is ‘Can I still switch once having one installed?’
You absolutely can – and you probably should, particularly if you haven’t recently. There’s no reason to overpay on an expensive tariff just because you’re worried about your smart meter.
Remember to always do a full market comparison using our Cheap Energy Club – smart meter or not.
What happens to the meter when you switch?
First off, your smart meter will always work as a meter, no matter how many times you switch or who you switch to.
You’ll find, however, that it’ll likely lose some features – they very often revert back to ‘dumb’ meters when you change provider.
Chances are it will no longer be able to send automatic readings to your supplier, nor will it tell you your usage in pounds and pence – though it should still give you info on your use in kWh.
It’s not ideal, but it shouldn’t put you off switching – all it essentially means is that you have to go back to giving meter readings to avoid estimated bills.
Choosing between that and a potential saving of £195/yr is an easy decision (at least for us at MSE).
Why does this happen?
It happens because we’re still in the early stages of the smart meter roll-out scheme – currently, these meters don’t have to work across suppliers.
Providers have been allowed to develop their own meters, so the only way your smart meter will still work is if your new supplier happens to have an agreement with your old one to use its tech – something seemingly they’ve been reluctant to do.
Will my smart meter start working fully again?
It should do – Smart Energy GB, the national campaign supporting the smart roll-out, says this is only temporary.
Eventually, all smart meters should be upgraded remotely, allowing them to work with any supplier, without the need for an engineer visit – though we don’t know when this will happen.
So should I get one?
There’s no harm in grabbing one now – at least you’ll get off estimated bills for a while if you’re a regular switcher. Then, when you switch again, just go back to giving meter readings like before until the meter gets upgraded.
If you’re not a regular switcher (why not?), then there’s no real reason not to get one if you can.
Alternatively, you could hold off. Soon – over the next year or so – suppliers are expected to start offering fully compatible smart meters.
Whatever you decide, virtually all of us will eventually have one of these meters. There have already been around four million installed across Britain, and by 2020 all suppliers are expected to have offered them to all domestic customers.
Remember though – if you’re dead set against them, you don’t have to get one; they’re completely optional.
What are the benefits?
As mentioned, there are a number of benefits – accurate bills and easy-to-access information on what you’re using being the main ones.
But in future, these meters could have more and more to offer. They could be connected to other smart devices in the home. They could then, for example, alert you if you’ve left the heating or your lights on by mistake.
If you’re on prepay, the benefits could be even greater – giving you more ways of paying, and easier access to your balance through the in-home display.
Not only that, but eventually they’ll allow you to switch between payment methods without having to change the actual meter. That should mean no more charges to get a credit meter installed, and no need to wait at home for engineers if you do change the way you pay.