What are they? Should you get one? And could yours go 'dumb'?
Energy suppliers are installing the next generation of gas and electricity meters, called smart meters. The Government's ambition is for everyone in England, Scotland and Wales to be offered them at no upfront cost in the next few years. But what exactly are they, should you get them, and what happens if you switch?
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters are next-generation gas and electricity meters. You get one meter for gas and one for electricity – they'll usually go where your existing meters are. As well as being available at no upfront cost, they offer a number of benefits over traditional meters:
Automatic meter readings. They send your usage information automatically to suppliers, so no more scrabbling around in dark cupboards or garages to read them.
- No more estimated bills. As your meters send your usage directly to your supplier, you should only pay for what you use. With a standard meter, you're often charged monthly based on estimated use and you send in a meter reading every few months to get an exact bill.
- In-home display showing usage in pounds and pence. Everyone who gets smart meters will also be offered an 'in-home display' – a real game-changer. It's a small gadget that communicates wirelessly with your smart meters, monitoring what energy you're using and showing you how much it costs, in near real time. It gives readings in pounds and pence, and kilowatt hours (kWh), so it can help you identify where you can cut back.
Smart meters are an upgrade to the energy system, allowing the UK to adopt a so-called 'smart grid'. It's expected that better information on energy use in homes and businesses should create a more efficient and reliable energy supply network, which can plan to supply energy peaks at the right time.
Smart meters are also there to help us manage our energy better as well – letting us see more information on our day-to-day energy use and spot ways to cut back.
All suppliers are obliged to offer them and they have targets to ensure a certain proportion of their customers have smart meters installed each year.
In theory, no. All suppliers will eventually be required to offer you them, but smart meters are NOT mandatory – you're free to say no - UNLESS yours is faulty or at the end of its working life. In this case, you can't refuse. We've more details below.
If you don't have to and choose not to now, you can always change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date, simply contact your supplier to ask.
There are two different models of smart meters
Of the 31 million smart meters installed across homes in Great Britain so far, about 15 million are SMETS 2 meters. A further 10 million SMETS 1 meters have been upgraded to restore smart functionality.
- SMETS 1: This is the first generation of smart meter technology, known as SMETS 1 ('Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications'). They communicate with your supplier over the 3G network. When you switch energy supplier, it's unlikely the new supplier will be able to pick up that communication, so they'll still work as basic meters but they'll go 'dumb' and lose some functionality. These are no longer being installed, and there is an ongoing plan in place to upgrade those already installed to restore lost functionality and enable them to remain 'smart' if you switch in future.
- SMETS 2: If you've had smart meters installed over the last few years, or you're set to get them, you'll have a second-generation SMETS 2 meter. These use their own communications systems via a central data network to which all suppliers have access. So when you switch, your new supplier should be able to see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display should show you your usage with the new supplier's costs.
The Government-backed Data Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for putting the infrastructure in that underpins the roll-out of smart meters, has upgraded about 10 million meters so far. There's no set date for the upgrade to be completed, but eventually all SMETS 1 meters will be updated.
Your meter will be upgraded remotely, so you won't have to do anything. But it's up to your supplier to inform you when it's going to take place and whether it was successful or not. In the unlikely event your meter can't be updated remotely, worst case is you'll need to have your SMETS 1 meters replaced with SMETS 2 meters. Annoying and inconvenient, but not the end of the world.
Am I eligible for smart meters?
The main decider – though there are others – is whether your supplier is installing them in your area. About 31 million have been installed so far, but the date to complete the roll-out has been pushed back to 2025.
Most suppliers are installing nationwide now, but how quickly you can get them will depend on availability in your area.
Suppliers don't publish lists of which areas they're installing smart meters in, nor a timetable for future roll-outs. The best you can do is to check where you are. Use the links below – they're technically for existing customers, but if you want to switch to one of these firms you could always call to check.
For other suppliers, check the campaign group Smart Energy GB's smart meter page, which will direct you to info on your provider's plans. If your supplier's not there, contact it to ask.
More smart meter eligibility questions
Yes. If you pay the bills and they're addressed to you, you can choose to have one installed. However, Ofgem recommends you tell your landlord before you get one. That's because there may be rules in your tenancy agreement about how energy is supplied to the property, including the type of meter that can be installed.
If your gas and electricity is included in your rent and your landlord receives the bills, they will probably need to sort it for you as the gas and electric accounts will be in their name.
Yes, you can get smart meters if you prepay for your energy – where you pay in advance and top up using a key or card.
That said, for most people it's best to switch to a credit meter, where you pay once you've received a bill – check our Prepay Gas & Electric guide for information on how to do that.
If you'll stick with a prepay plan, there are a few additional benefits of having one on a smart meter:
- It's easy to switch to a credit meter. It just takes a software update, rather than a new meter. This is crucial as energy is cheaper on a normal credit meter, plus there's more choice of tariffs.
- It's easier to top up. You can usually do it online, via an app, by phone, by text or in person. You're more restricted with a standard prepay meter.
- It's easier to check your credit. It'll be on your in-home display.
- Get alerts. If you're running low, or your meter's running on emergency credit, you can get alerts on your in-home display to let you know that you need to top up.
- It's easy to switch to a credit meter. It just takes a software update, rather than a new meter. This is crucial as energy is cheaper on a normal credit meter, plus there's more choice of tariffs.
Yes, and they should usually work, but not always. We're talking about when your meters are not actually inside the boundary of your home – eg, you live in a flat and they're in a communal corridor or cupboard.
Here, it's possible your in-home display won't connect to the meters for now. However, the body promoting smart meters, Smart Energy GB, says this problem is rare.
Economy 7 and 10 are tariffs which charge different amounts at different times of day. Most suppliers are now offering smart meters capable of handling these 'two-rate tariffs' – but always check before agreeing to have one installed.
With smart meters, it'll eventually be easier to switch between these tariffs and standard deals – you'll no longer need to have a new meter installed, which suppliers often charge for. If you're not sure whether you should leave Economy 7 behind, check Is Economy 7 right for you?
If you're on one of these two-rate tariffs, your smart meter should automatically send meter readings for the low and high-rate periods, but it's always worth double-checking your tariff is set up correctly once the meters are installed.
Yes – in fact, smart meters are a requirement of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme, which pays you for any electricity you don't use yourself. See Solar panels – are they worth it? for full info.
Can I switch with smart meters and will mine go 'dumb'?
Yes, you can still switch your energy provider with smart meters (though right now, due to the energy crisis, switching isn't worth it for most). And on the face of it, there's no reason why you wouldn't get them. They make sending readings easy, and also show your spending and how much energy you are using, to help you cut down your usage.
However, many are concerned that these meters will lose smart functionality after an energy switch, but this all comes down to which type of smart meter you have.
If you've had smart meters installed recently, or are going to get them, they'll be second generation SMETS 2 meters. As there is a central data network to which all suppliers have access, when you switch, your new supplier should be able to see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display should show your usage with the new supplier's costs.
However, if you're one of the 5 million who have the first generation SMETS 1 meters, that haven't yet been upgraded, there's a snag. As these communicate with your supplier over the 3G network and when you switch, it's unlikely your new supplier will be able to pick up that communication, so while they'll work as basic meters, they'll go 'dumb', and you'll need to start taking manual meter readings again.
But don't worry, there's an ongoing upgrade programme (see below) to restore the smart functionality if yours has gone dumb.
There's no way to know from looking if your smart meters are SMETS 1 or 2, or if you're SMETS 1 meter has been upgraded to restore smart functionality – the best way to know is to contact your supplier to ask.
If you had a smart meter installed before spring 2019, it will most likely be a SMETS 1 meter, meaning when you switch, your new energy supplier probably won't be able to read your data and your meters will go 'dumb'. So you'll need to get used to giving meter readings manually again, at least in the short term. The in-home display should still work – giving you your usage in kWh, though it might not be able to tell you how much you're spending in pounds and pence, as that's supplier-specific.
Suppliers are now only installing SMETS 2 meters now and these continue to work when you switch supplier.
Unfortunately, there's no easy way of knowing or finding out. The plan is for SMETS 1 meters to be remotely upgraded with software to allow them to meet SMETS 2 specifications and be connected to the central network. It was originally due to be completed by the end of 2020, but there have been numerous delays.
The Government-backed Data Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for putting the infrastructure in that underpins the roll-out of smart meters, has upgraded almost 10 million SMETS 1 meters so far – but there's five million more to go.
It told us that it is prioritising meters that have gone 'dumb', so if you have switched and your meter lost functionality, yours should either already be upgraded or will be shortly.
However, the DCC wouldn't give us a timeline of when it expects all SMETS 1 meters to be upgraded.
How do I get 'free' smart meters?
If your home is eligible and you've made the decision to get smart meters, here are your options:
- As many suppliers are rolling them out area-by-area, you can wait till it's your turn, but that could take months.
- You can try to jump the queue by asking your supplier. If it's fitting them in your area it's usually just a case of booking an engineer to visit, which should be within a few weeks.
- If they're not available in your area yet, you can register your interest which should push you up the pecking order when the time's right.
We've compiled a list of what the biggest companies are doing – all say they're installing nationwide, but there are some people who won't be able to get one yet. The table shows this, plus tells you how to get smart meters from these suppliers if you want them.
|British Gas||- You're on Economy 7 and use storage heaters
- You're in an area with poor signal strength
|You can request one and you'll usually get an installation date within two weeks|
|- You're in an area with poor signal strength||Log into your E.on account and you can book an installation. E.on will aim to get you an installation date within 28 days|
|EDF||- You're in an area with poor signal strength||Log in to your EDF account and you can book an installation online|
|Octopus||- Octopus told us they have several solutions to overcome issues for those with poor signal quality so most people can get one
||You can request one online, over the phone on 0808 164 1088 or via email using firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Ovo Energy||- You're in an area with poor signal strength||You can request one online or over the phone|
|Scottish Power||- You're in an area with poor signal strength
||You can request one and Scottish Power will aim to get you an installation date within six weeks|
- You're on Economy 7
- There is no space to install the new meter
|You can request one online, by phone or email – Shell Energy will aim to get you an installation date within three to four weeks but this can vary in some areas
|SO Energy||- You're in an area with poor signal strength
||SO Energy will be in touch via email when installation is available in your area. You can then book an appointment through your online account. Alternatively you can register your interest for one.|
|SSE||- You're in an area with poor signal strength||You can request one online or over the phone|
|Last updated: Jan 2023. (1) You can also wait until your supplier contacts you and offers you one, or register your interest if you can't get one now – you'll then be contacted when you can.|
For other suppliers, you can check Smart Energy GB's smart meter page or if it's not there, simply call your supplier.
If you're eligible and your energy supplier has agreed to fit smart meters in your home, it should arrange a suitable time and date to do so. Sometimes you can book appointments online. If your meter is difficult to access, let your supplier know when booking your installation.
The installation itself takes one to two hours, depending on whether you have gas and electricity, or just one. During this time, your supply will need to be switched off, so it's best to do it at a quiet time when everyone (except you) is out.
As well as fitting the meters, the installer should explain how it all works, and run you through the in-home display – if you decided to get one.
Your installer may offer safety and energy-efficiency advice – but they're NOT allowed to sell you anything – and they can only tell you about other products and services available from your supplier if you've agreed to it beforehand.
You'll need to arrange installation of the smart gas meter and smart electricity meter with each supplier separately – and you'll have to be at home for both.
You won't need two in-home displays though. The supplier installing the first smart meter should set up your in-home display for that meter. Then, when the installer from your other supplier comes to install the second one, they're responsible for updating your device so you can see your energy information from both meters on one display.
Usually, your new smart meters will simply replace your old gas and electricity meters – so they should be in exactly the same place.
If they need to be moved, your smart meter installer will ask you first and you shouldn't be charged extra.
If you want them moved, you may need to pay – talk to your supplier.
Meter readings are sent monthly at a minimum. You can also choose to send daily readings or even half-hourly ones if you want.
As with normal meters, you can't take them with you, and you should leave the in-home display too as it only works with the smart meter(s) it was installed with.
Although the meters should communicate final meter readings, it's worth you knowing them too so you can ensure you're correctly billed. Take a photo to be safe.
You shouldn't need to do anything to the meters, but – as you would with an old-style meter – take an opening reading to ensure you only pay for what you use (take a photo in case of disputes). Then call the supplier to let it know you've moved in, open an account and, if needed, give the opening meter reading.
If there's no in-home display for the smart meters, get in touch with the supplier at your new home. It should check what type of meter you have and arrange for a smart meter installer to visit – as long as it installed the meters, it won't replace them, just set you up with a new in-home display.
If you move into a home and the smart meter has gone 'dumb' (see You can still switch for more info), you'll need to treat it like an old-style meter, and send regular meter readings to your supplier.
As always, once you've moved in you'll be automatically put on a 'deemed tariff' – usually the supplier's standard variable deal. Ordinarily we'd tell you to do a comparison to find a cheaper deal – but that's not possible right now due to the ongoing energy crisis.
No, smart meters use mobile phone signals to transmit meter readings to your supplier and to talk to the in-home display. You don't need an internet connection or Wi-Fi to get one.
Some suppliers are offering in-home displays that can connect to your Wi-Fi, so you can access all your data whenever and wherever you are online or via an app – though this is optional.
If your in-home display breaks or develops a fault, you can get a new one for free if you've had it less than 12 months. After this, you may need to pay for a replacement.
Smart meters are NOT mandatory but...
...all suppliers will eventually be required to offer you them and may not be able to give you an alternative.
Because energy meters don't last forever - with a shelf-life of around 10-20 years (depending on the type of meter) - suppliers need to replace older meters to ensure they're safe and continue to give accurate readings.
According to Ofgem, if your existing meter is in need of replacement, 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, because they're expected to become the default meter used in Great Britain, it may not be possible for energy suppliers to replace an old traditional meter with a new traditional meter - even if you request it. If you do end up with a smart meter and you really don't want one right now, you can request this to be put into 'dumb mode'.
It's worth bearing in mind, before the energy crisis, some suppliers – particularly the big six – were making smart meters a condition of getting their cheapest deals (if you're eligible to get them), so it's worth looking out for.
So for now, you're free to say no and can change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date, simply contact your supplier to ask. You can read more about smart meter installation in our guide Can I refuse a smart meter?
Smart meters are not the same as smart thermostats
It's easy to confuse smart meters and in-home displays for smart thermostats, but they're actually different pieces of kit. Smart thermostats – such as those from Hive, Nest, and Tado – allow you to control your thermostat remotely. This means you can switch the heating on or off online or via an app, letting you control it when you're not in, so you can come back to a warm home or stop wasting heat on an empty one.
Smart meters can't do this – you won't be able to control any appliances remotely. However, smart thermostats won't help you get more accurate bills as they don't communicate with your energy supplier, and though some can provide information on your energy use, it won't be as instant as the in-home display.
Smart thermostats typically cost £150-£300, often including installation by a qualified electrician – see Smart Thermostats for more info.
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