/ 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.


@Jenny Driscoll – when will you stop spouting the drivel you are spouting and listen to the population who are against these intrusions into our home.

Are you real or a figment of the Chairman of Which’s imagination on their way to get a knighthood. “Lets not rock the boat I want a job in the morning” I hear you say, well I want to be able to afford to LIVE.

We are all Which contributors to the coffers and pay your wages so lets have some support and none of this supplication, you have NOT answered any of my points directly and I challenge you to do so.


Hello Daver22, thanks for your comment, but please do not make your comments personal or abusive. Check out our Commenting Guidelines if you’re unsure. We think smart meters can help you bring your bills down and we’ll explore the benefits of smart meters in a future Conversation. However, you’re comments certainly aren’t falling on deaf ears – we’re very interested to hear what you all think about smart meters and we’re taking a note of your comments. Thanks.

Damn Young says:
23 July 2011

I’m with Daver22 here, in a equal opportunities multicultural ethnically diverse non abusive kind of way, and in no way would I make any homophobic remark…..
But,I too feel Which is toeing the PR line.
Customers are not going to save money. If customers do use less power, the suppliers will jack up their prices to compensate. This is not fiction, it has already happened to my mum. She recieved a water company letter saying that because our metered customers are using less water than before, we are not recieving the revenue that we used to, and therefore have no option but to raise prices for our metered customers. I cannot understand how anyone can be so gullable as to believe they will save money.

Phil says:
23 July 2011

Hang on, how did we go from “Is my smart meter spying on me”:-


To “smart meters are a great idea’?

There are still concerns other than privacy and “stealth sales” that need to be addressed, one, that’s worrying Ofgem, being remote isolation, the ability of the supplier to switch of your supply via the meter without visiting your property. Might it lead to the vulnerable being plunged into the cold and dark at the whim of a utility company? It appears that currently the legislation hasn’t kept up with the technology, we need safeguards regarding remote connection and switching not to mention privacy and it’s still by no means certain how these meters will communicate and how secure that communication will be from hackers. It’s also by no means certain that consumers will see any savings or that any savings made by the utility companies will be passed on to consumers.

Which? should be addressing these matters not providing an unqualified approval.


Yeah, I’m afraid I can see what Patrick is saying (unlike in a similar remark he’s made on the postal service conversation which I’m afraid perplexes me) but I do absolutely and totally agree with Daver22, Phil and others who have made remarks in the same sentiment.

I was always suspicious of Which? for donkey’s years, believing them to be in the pockets of manufacturers & Government. It’s only in the last 5 years or so that I have had faith in Which? but Jenny’s insistence that SmartMeters are ‘good” (I know I’m paraphrasing her here) in the face of all the opposition being posted does worry me. I thought Which? was about looking after consumers? I’m really sorry Jenny & Patrick, but this sort of response is what always made me distrust Which? in the past.

It would be really great of you could offer some reassurance.


@Patrick Steen: I must have touched a raw nerve, perhaps you could advise us all how far in the future the conversation re ‘the benefits of smart meters’ will take place.

Hopefully before they are a fate acompli!

Thanks as well to those who supported me with regard to the questionable conduct of Which toeing a pc line. I look forward to the conversation in not to distant a future.


No raw nerve Dave, we just have commenting guidelines that make everyone comfortable here on Convo 🙂 We’re happy for you to disagree with us and criticise us. Don’t worry about that at all, but just try not to make it personal. It should be up next week… I’ll let you know!


@Patrick: don’t mean to make it personal, look forward to next week.



Elljay says:
25 July 2011

E-on have offered me a smart meter and a “pre-installation” visit, apparently within the near future, if I choose to take up their offer.

My E-on joint gas and electricity charges net of discounts (monthly debit and “send my readings to them online”) have recently been increased by more than 30%.

I’m considering swapping suppliers.

Would the installation of a smart meter inhibit the process of change of supplier?


Hi elljay – good question. A smart meter shouldn’t stop you switching supplier, however if the information from your smart meter can’t be sent directly to your new supplier than your meter may revert from being ‘smart’ to being ‘dumb.’ In practise what this means is that you’ll have to go back to reading your meter manually (or having someone come round to read your meter) and you could lose a lot of the benefits of having a smart meter. If you’re thinking about switching at the moment and you want a smart meter, it might be worth comparing deals and finding the best one for you, then contacting the supplier who is offering the best deal and asking if they’d be able to install a smart meter for you. Not all companies are offering them at the moment, but it definitely can’t hurt to ask.


I’m glad that Nikki has posted as candidly as she has on this – I seem to recall that another poster, or another Which? Article – I’m sorry I can’t recall which it is – has quite recently engaged in conversation on a Which? forum because they already have a SmartMeter and wished to change supplier, only to be told by their chosen new supplier that they could NOT switch until they had paid the supplier they were leaving to remove the SmartMeter and re-fit a “traditional” one first. I seem to recall that the supplier they wished to leave wanted to charge a sum around £100 to do this, making it very expensive to try to switch supplier.

This is clearly an area where it is important that a ruling is made and that the ruling is then very well publicised so that the public know what exactly the position is.

Does anyone at Which? know if such a ruling exists already? If so, can Which? make a start on such publicity? If I remember / find out where I read the case before I’ll post a link.


Off topic, for which I apologise as I know it is against the guidelines, but anyone who has just been listening to the 5 and 6 o’clock news on BBC or ITV or Radio will have heard taht one of the “reasons” given by the ONS and the Chancellor for the economic growth slowing to a virtual standstill in the last 3 months is that “the unusually warm April meant a fall in revenue for Gas and Electricity suppliers”.

Surely if this is cited as a “problem” or a negative issue then it is pretty damned obvious that assisting the consumer to save money is right down at the very pit-bottom of the list of reasons for installing SmartMeters (and indeed for introducing CFL lamps, fitting insulation, and all the other “energy efficiency” measures we are always having rammed down our throats.

To this end points made several days ago about teh suppliers charging us more if we use less seem all too frighteningly plausible.

(On the flip side, do take the ONS and Chancellor’s statements with a pinch of salt since that also blame the Royal Family for having a Royal Wedding and the Japanese Tsunami for the British Economy’s poor performance in the last quarter: with my serious hat on it all sounds like a desperate government thrashing around trying as hard as they can to find any possible excuse for the economy not doing well.

Worth a though though?)

Damn Young says:
26 July 2011

Told ya so!
Is Jenny Driscol still going to hold out?