Can I refuse a smart meter?

Smart meters aren't compulsory but it may be your only option

The Government is aiming for 80% of homes in England, Scotland and Wales to have a smart meter by the end of 2025. It's not compulsory to opt in to have one, but there are a few situations where you won't have a choice and your supplier will need to install smart meters. We've got the full info below, including what you can do if you don't want one.

Smart meters are NOT mandatory... unless yours is faulty or at the end of its life

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If you live in England, Scotland or Wales and your existing meter is faulty or at the end of its working life, it'll need to be replaced – and most suppliers don't install traditional energy meters anymore. So when yours needs replacing, it'll almost certainty be swapped out with a smart meter.

It is worth noting that some suppliers may have a few leftover traditional meters lying around, that they may be willing to replace your old one with, but it will depend on your supplier and it may come at a cost.

For example, British Gas told us it's possible to replace an old traditional meter with a new traditional meter, if available, but it charges between £120 and £179. Similarly, Utility Warehouse told us if a smart meter isn’t suitable, it'll install a traditional meter, but it doesn't charge you for end-of-life meter replacements, whatever the type of meter. All other firms we've spoken to have told us they can only replace old and faulty meters with a new smart meter.

However, while your existing meter still works and hasn't yet reached its 'best before date', you can still refuse to have a smart meter installed.

Meters need to be replaced every 10 to 20 years

Like most things, energy meters don't last forever so suppliers need to replace older meters to ensure they continue to give accurate readings. Suppliers determine when this needs to be done by checking a meter's 'certification date'.

According to Ofgem, if your existing meter needs replacing, your energy supplier is required to replace it with a smart meter, unless there's a good reason not to. So even though smart meters are not mandatory, it may not be possible for energy suppliers to replace an old traditional meter with a new one, even if you request it.

  • Some older Economy 7 meters are set to stop working next year

    Some older Economy 7 meters use the radio teleswitch service (RTS) to transmit and receive data. The service is due to be switched in 2025, so if you have one of these meters, you'll need to get it replaced before the deadline, otherwise your meter may lose important functionality. If you're an economy 7 customer, contact your supplier to find out if your meter will be affected. If so, you'll likely have to have a smart meter installed.

Can you change back from a smart meter?

Once you've had a smart meter installed, you can't switch back to a traditional meter. This includes moving into a property that already has one. Old traditional meters aren't being manufactured or refurbished anymore and there's not many of them lying around. So once you've got a smart meter, there's no going back.

If you really don’t want a smart meter, you can ask for it to be put in dumb mode

If you do end up with a smart meter and you really don't want one, your only option is to request your supplier puts it into 'dumb mode'.

This means it won't have any 'smart' functionality and will work as a traditional meter does. It won't send meter readings automatically to your supplier, so you'll need to manually send them on a regular basis to ensure your bill is accurate. 

For some customers with certain suppliers, dumb mode won't be possible. For example, those who are on multi-rate tariffs such as Economy 7, may need to have their smart meter in smart mode in order to access the different rates. Similarly, those on prepayment meters may need their smart meter to be 'smart' to be able to top-up.

It's also worth bearing in mind some suppliers make having or getting smart meters a condition of signing up to their tariffs.

Quick question

  • How can I check if my meter is at the end of its certified life?

    Every gas and electricity meter is given a ‘best before’ date when it’s manufactured. Energy suppliers may refer to this as the 'certification date'. Certification is done by meter examiners appointed by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). Once a meter has passed its certification date, it needs to be replaced, as it's unlikely to continue to take accurate readings.

    Some meters may have a sticker on, which will say the month and year it was ‘certified’, which will give you an idea of how old it is. But there's no guarantee the sticker is correct, as sometimes the OPSS extends the certified life after carrying out service tests and the sticker may not be updated.

    Your energy supplier has a list of the certifications dates of all meters that they supply. It will get in touch when your meter is nearing the end of its working life, and will arrange for a smart meter to be installed.

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Smart meters can help you save...

Energy suppliers are offering smart meters to every household, with the ambition that everyone in England, Wales and Scotland will have one by the end of 2025

If your meter is fully functioning, it's not mandatory for you to have it replaced with a smart meter – so you're free to refuse if you're offered one. Yet there's a host of reasons why you should consider getting a smart meter sooner rather than later...

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  • No more taking meter readings. Your smart meter communicates with your energy supplier remotely, automatically sending readings – sometimes as often as every 30 minutes – meaning you don't have to manually send them. It's particularly useful for those who have meters outside or in hard to reach places, or those who forget to do it manually. 
  • No more 'estimated' bills. With automatic meter readings, your energy supplier will always have up-to-date info on your energy usage and so it can bill you accurately. If you have a traditional meter and you forget to send a reading, you'll be charged an 'estimate' – which may be more than you've actually used.
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  • Real(ish)-time information could help you save. Smart meters come with an in-home display, which shows your household energy use – in pounds and pence, and kilowatt hours – in near-real time. Smart meters therefore make it easier for you to track and control your energy use, with the aim of helping you change your habits to save on energy (and the environment).

  • Prepayment customers can top-up without leaving home. Energy customers who prepay for their energy can top-up their meters from the comfort of their home. You usually just need an app or online account to do it. This means no more rushing to the shop or Post Office in your PJs if you're about to run out of credit.

  • You'll be able access special time-of-use tariffs and payment schemes. Smart meters open up different tariff options which could help you save (and some even let you make money)...
    - Those who charge an EV at home use cut-price off-peak energy to charge their vehicle.
    - Those with solar panels can get paid to generate electricity and sell it back to the grid.
    - Some suppliers will even pay you to use energy when there's surplus electricity on the grid.
    - A National Grid scheme pays you to shift your energy use to off-peak times.

Quick questions
  • Can all properties have a smart meter?

    There are a few situations where you might not be able to have a smart meter installed, for example if:

    • Your existing meter is in a difficult to access location
    • You live in a flat with a meter in a communal area (i.e not in your own flat)
    • Your home doesn't have a strong enough signal to connect to the smart meter network
    • You already have a SMETS1 meter (the first generation of smart meters) – these are being upgraded remotely to the SMETS2 systems (with no engineer visit required)
    • Your home has extremely thick walls, which can stop your smart meters from sending readings to your energy supplier
    • Your meter's on an asbestos backboard
  • Are old non-smart meters unsafe?

    Some suppliers have told customers that their old meter is unsafe and needs to be replaced with a smart meter. According to Which? there's actually no evidence that an old traditional meter can become dangerous, but it is more likely to become inaccurate, especially as it nears (or goes beyond) its 'end of working life' certification date.

  • Will a smart meter save me money?

    Not directly, no. But if you use it to track your energy usage and make energy-saving changes to your daily habits, you will likely see your bills go down. 

  • Can I get a smart meter if I live in a rented property?

    Generally, whoever pays the energy bills can choose if they have a smart meter installed. So if you pay for your gas and electricity directly to an energy company, you have the right to have a smart meter installed. However, it’s always best to check with your landlord first, as your tenancy agreement may stipulate the kind of meter that can be installed.

    If your landlord pays the bills, the decision to get a smart meter is up to them.

  • Will a smart meter work if I live in a rural area?

    If you live in a rural area, or somewhere known for having a poor mobile phone signal, the chances are that a smart meter may struggle to work in your house. It doesn't mean you can't have one but you could end up with inaccurate energy bills if your meter readings are not being communicated to your supplier properly or on a regular basis.

  • Is my data secure?

    Yes, your data is safe and secure. Personal details like your name and address aren’t stored on your smart meter – the only information it collects is about your gas and electricity usage. Smart meters use a secure wireless network connection to send your usage directly to your energy supplier, so it can give you accurate bills. 

    There are also laws in place that stop energy suppliers from sharing any of your information with third parties, unless you give permission.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. We'd love to know your thoughts and experiences with smart meters, or if you've any feedback or questions we've not answered. Let us know in the Can I refuse a smart meter? forum thread.

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