/ 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.

Grangejon says:
15 July 2011

I have absolutely no problem with smart meters – making us more aware of our consumption will only be of benefit long term. However I think it amazing that when I am changing my meter (in August) due to moving onto a single tariff, my energy comapny could not arrange to install a smart meter. Being cynical does this mean they want another marketing visit? I am just disappointed that the smart meter could not be fitted when they come in a months time, especially when in a couple of years, they will want to replace this new meter with a smart meter.

Sheila says:
15 July 2011

Frankly I am sick of being told what I want, like or need by people in a position to force me to accept things that are in their vested interests but not at all in mine and who never bother to consult me.
A Nanny state is one thing but sadly Nanny too often seems to be short-sighted, hard of hearing, selfish, greedy, narrowminded, interfering, opinionated and even totally stupid.
It should not be the government’s decision nor any PLC to tell consumers what we want.
No one asked me if I’d like to pay (thru tariff) for a product I would probably refuse even if it were free if I had a choice.
Even though I am over 60 (and therefore part of a section of the population the government seems to think are automatically so incompetant that we even need telling what/what not to eat and drink !!) I am not so stupid that I do not know the comparative power of my various appliances and how much I use them!
I have no objection to reading my meter and inputting the result.This and a monthly DD gives me enough control over my usage/expenditure.
First it was the eco bulbs, and the former much cheaper types withdrawn from sale to remove any element of choice.
Now if you want to pop into the loo the so called equivalent wattage is so dim when you first put the light on that you need to take a torch. By the time it would have reached full brightness (not impressive anyway) you would have switched it off and gone away ……unless of course you leave it on permanently just in case someone might want to go……
If you are doing some sewing you need to change to a special daylight bulb (old type!) and as for trying to see to do DIY safely.. ….the old 200 watt used to be ideal, then back to 60 or 100 afterwards.
The latest annoyance is apparently to be a massive investment to tell me that my 3kw heater uses more electricity than my kettle. Wow! I never suspected……however I can only hope that the extra charges feeding through to consumers will not force me to sit in the cold in winter and do without a cup of tea by increasing the bills to a level I cannot afford..

Damn Young says:
17 July 2011

I imagined an older moustached man as I read your post Sheila. Actually 3KW kettles are not uncommon today.

Antrich says:
15 July 2011

It might mean getting an accurate reading for a change, it will mean, of course, that they will now have no excuse for not providing accurate monthly bills! In a quarterly bill, things could get out of hand very quickly, and the damage will be done before situation could be rescued!

David Blain says:
15 July 2011

I recently had smart meters fitted by E-on and a monitor placed inside my house. They were on time and fitted the equipment without any fuss. However the utiliities were turned off when doing so and when turned on again they could not get the boiler to light.After some efforts were made I was told that they could not do too much and that I should make my own arrangement. Fortunately I have insurance with British Gas and they came out. Within seconds the boiler was lit. It took longer to complete the paperwork. Three people came to fit the meters, one for the electricity,one for the gas and one to watch the gas fitter.Three vans were used. We now watch the monitor and its possibly becoming an obsession.

Peter Lorton says:
15 July 2011

If Energy Companies want to install Smrt Meters, let them foot the bill from the savings in not paying Meter Readers.

crissy says:
15 July 2011

I have had a smart meter for over a year now and ive got to say…. my bills are much better/cheaper.
I used to have to pay over £200 a month for gas and electricity and now it has nearly halved.
i didnt have to pay for the meter to be installed and the only downfall if you could all it one is that when you over pay in the summertime with other companies you go into credit then you have a good start off to the winter months, but if the power is over priced to start with this is a false advantage.
With the smart meter you pay as you use so it may be a bit steep in the winter months but your really save in the summer months…. There is also no chance of going into debt.
As we need to have power supply, we are all victims to price rises unfortunaletly we theres not much we can do about it but hopefully with this meter at least you will not be overcharged (im saying this with crossed fingers) as i dont know weather my company will be following suit and didiculously hiking up charges.

As for people moaning that the government is doing this and that…. Everyone wants to moan but no one wants to stand up and do something.
You elected them… Put up with it.

richard berriman says:
15 July 2011

so theres no longer a need to have a meter read, so nobody from an energy
company will be periodically observing the condition of the meter installation????
Surely there is a whole batch of safety issues there. It is already a legal
requirement to have the gas meter (and other parts of the gas installation)
safety checked every year if you are a tenant in a property.
How often will a trained person be attending these smart meters? Not all
gas meters are installed in little plastic boxes outside a property. many are
at the back of a cupboard, daily bombarded with brooms, hoovers, pets, toys
and inquisitive youngsters. Who will be in attendance and able to ‘flag’ any
installations which are or are becoming dangerous in non tenant properties
once the trained meter reader has lost his job.

Steve says:
15 July 2011

I think people should petition this through the charity 38 degrees, who have suceeded with the BskyB & many others. Encourage the Govt to order the utilities companies not to sell extra products

Barbara Jack says:
15 July 2011

I had smartmeters installed by Scottish Power as I wanted to take part in their pilot of energy monitoring equipment.
This has not worked out as I would have hoped – their unit was not compatible with my Wi-Fi.

So I still have the smart meters – which are not being recognised by Scottish Power’s own system.
I am in the process of transferring to N-Power, and anticipate that the calculation of my final bill is going to be one enormous headache.

Paul says:
15 July 2011

I feel capable of telling a salesman to get lost if he or she tries to use an underhand way of getting to me to try to sell a product or service, or of pushing something I do not want. However there are those less able to be firm, verging on abrasive in rejecting such approaches, and they should be protected from this type of marketing.
A separate issue is the sheer annoyance we already suffer from cold selling by phone, mountains of junk mail, and misuse of email addresses. Nowadays it is almost impossible to complete an order form without provising phone number, mobile number and email address and these methods are then used for pursuit with “updates” “offers” etc.

In the last couple of weeks I even received 3 consecutive text messages telling me that I am “entitled to claim compensation for the accident I had”. Not only have I not had an accident (even if I would condescend to deal with a shark of this type) but as I was abroad I had to pay extra for receipt of these messages. I have no idea how they got my number.
If we are going to be forced to give admittance to our homes for fitting smart meters whether we want then or not, and forced to share the cost of this exercise any likelihood of further harrassment by salespersons with access to our personal contact information is a truly appalling prospect..

Egeria says:
15 July 2011

The other major objection to smart meters is that suppliers will be able to analyse usage and adjust their charges (to maximise their profits) by charging more during periods of high demand.

Dave says:
15 July 2011

I have a better idea to save energy: Off means Off!
Many modern appliances don’t have an off switch, merely a standby switch. In most cases there is no valid operational reason for this, it just panders to ‘convenience’. Let’s go back to the days when things had a genuine on/off switch so Off means Off! Off means zero power consumption, zero interference generation and virtually zero fire risk. This could be done even with a remote control, as the IR receiver could use micropower techniques or a rechargeable battery so a genuinely Off item could still be switched on remotely by people suffering from laziness or mobility problems.
Could Which? start a campaign – Off means Off!

It’s a good one, and hate to say we’ve read your mind, but we’ve written a Conversation on this and there has been quite a big response: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/tvs-on-standby-without-an-on-off-switch/ Please join in!

Robert C says:
16 July 2011

If you want to switch something off, you can always use the switch on the wall. An electronics professor once pointed out that they are cheap and any electrician can fit a new one if it wears out. Getting a spare part for a TV or washing machine is much harder and more expensive, if you can get a spare at all.

There is a commonly held belief that the stand-by mode on TVs etc wastes electricity and we could save a lot if we did not use it. Rubbish – it saves about £1.50 / year. Then of course you have to remember it goes into heat, so half the year it was useful anyway. Net saving in a year about the same as a 1st class stamp. (Our 10 year old TV was one of the first with a 1W standby, so I assume nearly all TVs in the country will have it by now)

One difficulty with a roll-out of any initiative is that a public announcement that “Representatives will be calling in your area” leads to a rise in criminal activity. I work for Homewatch in a “No Cold Calling Area” set up to reduce the vulnerability if the elderly and disadvantaged. Whenever ligitimate persons call (Utilities, Media, Charity Collectors) they may be preceeded, or followed, by fraudsters / distraction burglars purporting to be from the same organosation. Please be aware.

Epbat says:
15 July 2011

We have cavity wall insulation, underfloor insulation, double glazing and 28 to 56 cms of insulation in our loft. We have a condensing boiler, with all pipework lagged directly, or covered in loose lay insulation.

We have roof mounted solar panels with full metering facility and the ability to access the output and returns via a website. After the initial flush of enthusiasm (two days) I have never looked at it again (18 months ago).

We have an OWL (3 channel) wireless energy monitor attached to incoming cables from grid and from solar panels, and to main feed to house from meter. We set it up to allow us to monitor, and check, our consumption and costs from all sources. We played about with it for some time, but now I cannot, off the top of my head, tell you where the monitor is. With the current increase in costs, it will have to be reset, and I cannot be bothered.

Smart meters will go the same way. For the first few days, it will be interesting and fun, but then the monitor will be put in a drawer and forgotten about. As for me or you logging on and checking our consumption, forget about it. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.

Some time ago the gas suppliers ran a massive programme to update all the gas meters. That cost millions. It was worth it though, because the meters should now all be safe, and accurate. We all indirectly paid for that through our gas bills.

This latest wheeze will also cost us, massively, and all for what in the end will prove to be a complete waste of time. We all have far too many interesting things to do in our lives, definitely much more interesting than getting obsessed about our energy consumption. Insulation is the answer, fit it, forget it, get on with your lives.

Sorry to ramble on – my wife claims I don’t have an ‘off switch’ 😉

Robert C says:
15 July 2011

So, no surprise there – my supplier has not signed up (yet)
I’ve ticked all the boxes to say “no selling” so if they try it on me they will get a formal complaint and I will certainly eject the person from my home, and point out that they gained entry under false pretences.

Information to help save energy is a good thing. Accurate, not estimated, bills are also a good thing.

Perhaps there should be a standard penalty fee? If they make one false selling move, they automatically pay £50. Sign up to that or show your true colours. (no point in a pledge without teeth)

David Harrison says:
15 July 2011

I have been given gadgets that tell me how much energy I am using which is fine. I know when I turn on the kettle or washing machine I am using more but what can I do give up tea and don’t wash my cloths! A complete waste of time and more importantly my money!

Dave A says:
15 July 2011

I’m with First Utility and had no sales pitch for other products. I’ve had my smart meters since February 2010 and during the ‘novelty’ period looked at my consumption using google powermeter. The novelty soon wore off and I haven’t bothered looking at powermeter for months now (it’s being discontinued anyway). I think the idea that we’ll all save money is a fallacy unless you’re very wasteful. I have the central heating on when it’s needed. Likewise electrical appliances get switched on when needed, they’re rarely left on standby.
The good bit is that I don’t get estimated bills and if the tariff changes (goes up – they never go down!) then it’s changed immediately instead of there being an estimate of usage before the change which I suspect was always in the providers favour.

Wheezy_alan says:
15 July 2011

I do not need a smart meter, only the electricity supplier does. I read my existing meters regularly every week. Doesn’t everyone? I also do not need energy-saving advice. I know exactly how much power every device in my home uses. and with the exception of my TV and PVR, which are always on standby, none is ever used unnecessarily. That includes this PC! OK, so some people are wasteful, But they pay for that privilege. And, that also helps to keep my own energy bills down.

C.J. at M.P. says:
15 July 2011

If the energy companies want to exchange my current (SORRY!) electricity meter for a ‘smart’ meter which will enable billing without the need for a meter reader, I am on side and expect them to fund the changeover and to reduce my future bills from the manpower savings from which they will benefit. I do no want or need any more interference or nurse-maiding in my life; I know that when I turn on any electrical appliance it will consume electricity and the larger the wattage stated on the label, the more it will consume. For goodness sake people of Great Britain, stop them all before they turn us into beings from a science fiction novel looked after and prescribed to by an ever invasive machine.

I have been reading this conversation as well as other articles by Which? on issues around Smart Metering with some invested interest. I work for one of the “Big Six” Energy Companies and I’m always keen to find out more about what customers are thinking on some of the key issues in our industry.

I agree very much with the sentiment of this campaign if not the reality. Most of the large utility providers and some of the small ones do a great deal of work in the environmental arena, in charity and in national/local community projects. But, unfortunately only the less popular side of the industry seems to really catch the media attention. Price increases and miss-selling or pressure selling are probably the main ones. So, I understand some of the reasoning behind this campaign and why recent surveys suggest that consumers do not currently have a lot of faith in their energy providers.

I can see from some of the comments above that there can be quite strong feelings left behind following an individual bad experience. And, that there are quite strong views on selling during a meter installation. I feel very strongly however, that it is both unwise and unfair to seek to impose restrictions on ‘selling’ in such a blanket fashion. Any form of pressure selling is of course, an immediate no! But, taking the time to give customers energy efficiency advice that could be of real long term benefit (and yes, may result in a purchase) should be actively encouraged.

Energy Companies should be focused on doing what is right for the customer in these situations. If this means making them aware of products which, in the long term would save them money then I think that is certainly the right thing to do. This may be a simple as leaving an information pack behind or could be as involved as drawing up a detailed quote on potential purchases with cost/saving clearly outlined. As a customer, I would much prefer to have a conversation with an experienced engineer in my own home than over the phone.

Looking at the bigger picture, there is an important element of the UK energy industry that this article seems to overlook. Energy companies are subject to a Government obligation to help customers reduce their bills. This is currently a significant financial obligation and one which, will become even more significant with the introduction of the new Energy Bill and the Green Deal. Energy Companies will be responsible for helping some of the most energy inefficient and fuel poor households in improving their homes and saving them money on their energy bills. Not just in selling them energy saving measures but, actually paying for those measures through what will be called the Energy Company Obligation. An amount from their own revenue (yet to be set by the Government) which, Energy Companies will be required to use to pay for energy efficiency measures for individual customers.
If in the future, their was any kind of restriction around ‘selling’ during a meter installation then this might significantly hinder what is a very key part of the Government’s Energy Strategy.

As an Energy Industry ‘insider’ I understand that I will have a quite different perspective on things than an average customer. I respect customer opinion and know that it is vital that the Energy Companies listen to what their customers are telling them. I think it is important to listen to as many voices as possible though and not just the loudest.


On a related subject, I read another Which? article recently on proposed restrictions to how much information Energy Companies should be able to take from Smart Meters.

I understand the concerns expressed in the article. Data Protection is an important issue in our Industry and others. Correct legislation and codes of practice would be the right way to enforce the appropriate standards to ensure customer data is not used in the wrong way.

The proposal to allow customers to restrict the frequency and amount of data that can be gathered from Smart Meters by the Energy Companies though seems to betray a lack of understanding in the Energy Industry by Which?

One of the key reasons behind the roll-out of Smart Meters is the future vision of a Smarter energy grid for the whole country. A Smarter grid which will lead to better demand forecasting for energy generation and form a significant part of carbon reduction targets.

The regular (half-hourly) collection of data from smart meters is THE key element in improving forecasting for electricity generation. Any restrictions on collecting this data would practically make the whole thing redundant!

Thanks for reading.

Wheezy_alan says:
18 July 2011

Thank you for your clear example of the arrogance of some in the electricity supply industry.
“Our customers clearly object in strong terms to being subjected to sales pitches, but we are going to carry on doing them, anyway.”

It certainly wasn’t my wish to seem arrogant in sharing my views Alan so, I apologise for that if I didn’t make myself clear. Nor was it my intention to offer a view representing the electricity supply industry. My views are informed by my knowledge of the industry yes, but they are my own personal views and should not be taken to be in any way representative of the industry as a whole.

I think you should consider your own views in a similar way. I can see that you have a strong opinion on ‘sales pitches’ but, please remember that your voice is one amongst many. As I said in my original post, I think it’s important to listen to all voices and not just the loudest.