/ Home & Energy

Our smart meter challenge to help stop stealth sales

Can you imagine someone coming round to install your new smart meter, then trying to flog you cavity wall insulation? No? Well, you may not be as imaginative as our sales-savvy energy companies.

By 2020 the government wants every home in Great Britain to have a smart meter. It will cost over £11 billion and we are likely to pay for it via our bills.

This meter will be smart because it will communicate directly with the supplier and so cut out the need for meter readings. They’re a great idea, because as well as passing this info to your supplier, they’ll also let you see your own energy usage. This could help you reduce energy consumption and, in turn, lower your bills.

So what’s the catch?

The government is encouraging smart meter installations to include advice on energy efficiency. This includes installers telling you about other energy efficiency products that you could buy straight from them! Moreover, we’ve found job adverts from energy companies insisting that potential smart meter installers should have ‘a good head for sales.’

Am I weird in hoping that they just have ‘a good head for installing my smart meter and then leaving me alone’?

Great though smart meters are, we’re worried that energy companies have spotted an excellent opportunity to sneak salespeople through your front door. Our research shows that 93% of people wouldn’t let an energy salesperson into their home, and 30% wouldn’t even open the door to them.

I don’t want your stealth salespeople

And what surprises me more is that it’s the energy industry being allowed to do this. Yes, the same industry that has a lowly track record for mis-selling and the same industry that has record lows when it comes to our trust in them.

The government’s sending a message to industry to make sure they don’t exploit this opportunity to be irresponsible when selling door-to-door, with the industry also putting together a code of conduct.

But, here at Which?, we still think it’s not right to sell products when energy companies come round to install 50 million smart meters. Full stop.

No selling, just installing

We’re challenging energy suppliers to sign up to our ‘no selling, just installing’ smart meter challenge. Companies who accept the challenge will not sell during the installation and their smart meter installers will not be on sales-related commission or have to make any sales leads.

The installer will fit the meter, explain how it works, leave written material – and yes, some of this may include marketing material – and then go. Seven companies have made the promise already – well done to Co-operative Energy, Ecotricity, First Utility, Good Energy, Ovo and The Utility Warehouse.

But come on other suppliers. Take up the Which? smart meter challenge and show that you’re committed to making the smart meter roll-out hassle-free, rather than just extra-profitable.

So, thanks for my new smart meter, energy company. Yes, please install it. Yes, please explain how it works. Yes, please leave written information. But don’t try and sell to me in my home.

Comments
Member

None of the large energy suppliers then? (rolleyes)

For me, this is just another waste of public money that will end up in the pockets of the energy companies. Remember the “energy saving lightbulbs” ? That’s right, energy prices subsequently went up. How about “Install loft insulation”, what happened? Energy prices went up. How about “discounts for paying by direct debit”, what happened? energy bills went up.

I predict exactly the same will happen with the “smart” meter, billions will be spent saying how much better off we will be, billions will be spent setting it up, then what will happen? That’s right, energy bills will go up again.

It’s NOT about reducing your energy, it’s about making massive profits off a service that should be nationalised under the guise of saving the planet.

I really do think that Which? Should be looking through all these smokescreens and get campaigning on the real issue here that energy prices are exponentially rising.

[Hello Dean, please don’t write excessively with capital letters, as explained in our Commenting Guidelines. We’ve now edited them out. Thanks, mods.]

Member

Hi dean, thanks for your comment. You’re right – energy prices are rising, and we do recognise that this is an extremely worrying issue for consumers. It’s not realistic for Which? to just demand that energy companies lower their prices, but we have identified lots of ways that we can tackle the issue of rising prices – some action from government, some action from consumers, and some action from companies themselves. You can see what we’re doing to tackle rising energy prices here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/price-rises/

Ultimately a lot of our work in the energy sector is aimed at driving more competition, which we think will help to lower prices and encourage companies to provide a better service to their customers. Our smart meter challenge is just one part of all the work we do on energy, which includes fighting for simpler tariffs, better competition, a decent Green Deal for consumers, etc. You can see all our energy campaigns work here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/

Finally, our smart meter challenge is something that we think does really matter to consumers – our research shows that 93% of people don’t want an energy salesperson in their home. That’s pretty significant when you consider that some of the large companies will be sending them out as a matter of course, often without customers being aware that they’ll be subject to a sales pitch during the installation. We have had a great response from the smaller, newer entrants to the market (a demonstration that they’re committed to showing they’re different!) but we’d obviously like the larger energy companies to see that by signing up to our challenge they can show their customers that they’re committed to an efficient roll out that benefits their customers rather than just squeezing more profit from them.

Member

Nikki,
I would think your research showing over 90% of people really don’t want an energy sales person in their home is correct, in fact I’d estimate higher.
But don’t confuse energy sales, where they’re just trying to win you over to supply from them, with energy efficiency measures like loft insulation, cavity wall etc which will save you money.
You used cavity wall in the write up as an example of stealth selling by energy suppliers and seem to class this as the same as the Eon sales person trying to get you to change from EDF. It’s not the same, with appropriate energy efficiency measures you win, not the supplier.

But I would also agree with “dean” in that the less energy we use through improved efficiency the greater the chance of increases in price to protect profits. This is because sell less and the unit cost to supply increases, sort of economies of scale in reverse.
However as this is already happening the only way to avoid the rise is to use less through greater efficiency, we have no choice.
I can only suggest a better way is that we cut out the duplication in supply infrastructure (and duplicated cost) by re-nationalising energy supply. “Competition” isn’t working (and anyway it’s not competition if it’s a cartel, as many of us suspect the big six situation is) so why not?

And finally smart meters only give more up to date bills. Yes that’s good but really isn’t saving you any money. If you want to save by monitoring your useage buy a £25 owl monitor on ebay. Much cheaper than the eventual cost to the consumer of so called smart meters.
The “which” campaign in support of smart meters is I feel not justified or fully thought through.
These meters just arn’t that smart, but they certainly are an added cost to the hard pressed consumer.

Member

So you’re campaigning to ensure that more money is spent on erroneous measures that will achieve nothing? Stopping salesmen calling is certainly laudable, but in terms of the issue in hand, you are completely missing the point.

“A green deal” is such a non-issue. What people want as a consumer is fair, low prices and it is no secret that energy prices have been rising way above inflation for many years, actually serving to increase the perilous nature of our economy at present because we have no option but to pay.

If Which? campaigning is only serving to create more “initiatives” that are actually driving up prices, then perhaps the strategy needs to be re-thought.

Please let us know how competition has lowered train fares, air fares, energy bills and bus fares.

Switching is fine until your new supplier updates their price, then you are back at square one.

Member

Why can’t businesses just leave us alone in our homes?
We get enough advertising, selling, etc as it is, on TVs, leaflets, doorstep callers, via our landlines (that we pay for) is giving yet another industry license to oin us really a good idea?
As has happened in every other industry, self regulation and codes of conduct have all failed miserably, to the detriment of the public.

If the energy companies can adjust the CV on our meters every week on digital meters millions currently have installed, why do we need “smart” meters at all?
Is the law changing, so that meters have to be inspected once every 2 years – a current legal requirement – which we all pay for?
If it is, then consumers should see immediate reductions in their bills to reflect the fact that these “new” meters no longer need inspection under law?

Member

Hello frugal ways

We do think that smart meters will be a good thing for a lot of people. I know that when I get mine I will value being able to see clearly when I’m using a lot of electricity and it may help me – and the rest of the family – cut down and, importantly, save on energy bills. They will also cut out the need for meter readings as well.

EU legislation requires GB to have smart meters and the Government is hoping that they will help reduce our energy use to cut down on carbon emissions. Consumers will be expected to pay for the roll out, but, as I said we do think that a smart meter in the house can help people save on energy use and also switch quickly to better tariffs.

Jenny

Member

I understand where you’re coming from Jenny, but just one example of where it will fail;

British Gas owners Centrica, stated last week in the tabloids that one of the three reasons prices were going up 18% (on top of last December’s rise) in August, was because of “lower consumption.” – this, they tell me today via letter, is on the basis that wholesale energy prices MAY increase by 30% in December 2011 – staggering that increases are coming in from August, without factual confirmed rises in wholesale costs!
Proof that what many people have been saying on forums all over the internet for a long time now, the more we save energy the higher the price becomes to protect energy company profits.

I just don’t see how smart meters will improve the current problems we are all facing. Forget the initial increase via our bills to pay for them, which won’t be reversed once the roll out is complete, the scrutiny should be falling upon the energy companies and the confusion they are creating with their billing systems, to try to justify huge profits.
Sam’s idea below is a cracking one. Automation of best price would force down prices as energy companies wouldn’t be guaranteed any payments unless they were competitive, now that would be “smart!”