/ 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?

Hello folks. As promised, we have published a new smart meter Convo going over their benefits of smart meters, but also our worries. We’ve included some of your comments too!

Please have a good read and add your thoughts! https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/smart-meter-roll-out/

Pangit says:
27 July 2011

I have just thought what I would like from a smart meter and what would encourage me to install one.

1. All suppliers on a second by second bases transmit to the smart meter there charge for gas or electricity – The smart meter would automaticaly switch to the cheapest supplier on a second by second bases.

2. Payment via consolidated suppliers Monthly billing by Direct debit from the national grid.

3. Advantage, nobody ever has to change supplier again, lowest bills possible, encourages suppliers to be competitive, all suppliers could get rid of there billing systems(computing and staff cost elimination) except for the national grid.

4. Smart meter should be owned by national grid – not by supplier (Obvious as in proposed system would be expensive and inconvient to change smart meter every time you change supplier).

Why I would not want a Smart Meter (Current proposed system)

1. I can not see how it can reduce my electricity use. (I currently have a little meter kindly supplied free by Npower – It shows roughly how much electricity I’m using as I switch on or off appliances around the house. When I use the kettle it jumps up, It jumps up even more when I use the Cooker and even more when I use the Garden Wood Shredder etc. So I ask myself am I going to put a tea bag into cold water, going to eat Raw Meat and Veg, going to cut the Lawn with a Push Mower attempt to shred my garden waste with a pair of Shears. I don’t think so!!
I could of course burn my garden rubish with a kettle on top, Cook my veg and meat on a stick, move the fire around the lawn to keep it short. or perhaps buy a rubish burning steam engine and generate electricity which the government may pay me 43.5 Pence a KWH but know doubt I’d have to buy carbon credits to offset the polution.
I notice that when my Solar PV system is generating electricity the Npower meter indicates that I’m actualy using electricity even though everything in the house is switched off (It can’t tell the difference between electricity going to the Grid and Electricity coming from the Grid)

2. I don’t want some supplier switching off my electricity supply on a whim. Why? For example health and safety, I’m half way up the stairs an my disabled electric powered stair lift and the power is cut. I’m up a ladder decorating the stair well in the evening and the lights go out (Its. pitch black and I fall whilst trying to get get down etc), I wont get the payments for my expensive Solar PV System.

3. I won’t get a refund for the cost saved by not having a meter reader call.

4. I suspect that the smart meter can’t tell the difference between feed in electricity going to the Grid and consumed electricty coming from the grid. My Current Electronic Dumb meter can’t tell this either (Apparently the old style Electo Mechanical Meters run backwards if you feed electricity to the Grid). As always one step for ward 2 steps backward. Anything electronic very unreliable

5. I bet if the smart meter breaks down it will switch of the electric supply. I’ll have to take time off work when they come and replace it some weeks later) They are already replacing the Electriconic Gas meter every five years. The old mechanical meters ran for ever. An engineer to replace a meter takes a lot longer than just reading the meter by sight and is a lot more expensive!

6. If I were a hacker I’d love to be able to switch off everyones electric and gas supply.
If were a foreign government or terrorist this would be one of my top priorities.
If I were a disgruntaled supplier employee the same applies.
Lets switch off everybodys supplies and the switch them all back on to burn out the national grid sub stations etc.

In conclusion Id be happy to have a Supplier Independent meter that electronicaly supplies the gas and electric readings and in my case also reads my Solar PV Meter. But forget all the so called smart bits I don’t want them or a meter provided by any supplier which places limitations to switch supplier.

Don’t want one now!! Don’t want to pay for it either!! Which? – please campaign to abandon the fiasco!!

Why would anyone want a smart mter, any smart person can see what they’re using by keeping an eye on their lecy meters either daily or weekly. The whole thing is just another stealth tax on our rapidly growing third world country

Neil Watson says:
31 July 2011

There are rumours in the industry of using smart meters to control the delivery of electricity when demand exceeds supply, lowering the voltage and thereby limiting the number of devices that can be used at any one time. Is this real or just a sign of distrust of the suppliers?

By their very nature these meters are smart and will be remotely programmable so although initially they may not support this I am sure the hardware will and therefore the industry will say that the meter cannot be used for that purpose when installed.

Come the time they need to use the ‘additional’ features they will be enabled/installed via software update over the air as required (it’s fair to say I have no proof of this, but only a knowledge of software and controllers).

Just look at modern hardware, my iPad for instance, but I have control of that and can decide whether or not to install an update, these meters will be updated without consent, mark my words.

The only safe way is to refuse to have one installed – you have been warned!

Whilst I agree with the general thrust of your argument that there should be no selling activity associated with the installation of smart meters there is a danger that an opportunity to help householders in fuel poverty will be missed.
As the manager of an independent energy advice centre for 10 years (but now retired) I am well aware of the great difficulty involved in identifying people who are living in fuel poverty. Large numbers have been helped by various government, energy company and other schemes. However there remains a substantial number that many organisations have tried to contact without success. In general the (fuel poverty) industry has found that the only way to find and these households is by direct personal contact – one to one, on the doorstep. Even then success cannot be guaranteed and the cost is very high. The cost per household can be minimised by dealing with whole streets or neghbourhoods at a time but the overall cost is still high.
The installation of smart meters involves house by house visits and does offer the opportunity to identify and/or help households that need energy efficiency measures. I wholely agree that this should not be a high pressure sales opportunity but it is an opportunity to identify households that need help, to improve health, to reduce carbon emissions and reduce our impact on climate change.
I would like to see Which? taking a more proactive approach to finding ways in which the opportunities offered by the smart meter project could be used to benefit individual households and cut carbon emissions.

Patsy says:
17 January 2012

Why not just call and not use the ‘Smart meter’ as a ploy?

It will not cost any more will it?, you could still identify the fuel poverty homes.

If you can justify the expense to sell smart meters to reduce your turnover, you can surely justify the expense to locate the fuel poverty ones

Hello all, we have published a new Conversation on this – explaining how the comments you’ve made right here on Which? Conversation have made us review the smart meter roll-out. Thanks!


Hello all, you may be interested to hear that we’re calling on the government to stop and rethink the smart meter roll-out after an investigation, launched in part due to your comments. You can read more about this on our latest Conversation “Stop and rethink the smart meter roll-out”: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/stop-smart-meter-roll-out-uk-government-electricity-gas/

Margie says:
16 January 2012

I have read many reports of Smart meters being very harmful to health due to the high emf/emg fields they generate, even from other properties nearby. This should be a major concern, quite apart from the others mentioned already. Nobody seems to be picking up on this possibility but it should surely be a consideration.

Actually it has but in other ‘conversations’ and I am sure it will continue see –


Sorry to slightly hijack this thread but I have always wondered how smart meters send the information to the supplier.
If by mobile phone signal how will they handle people such as myself who get no mobile signal at home?

Patsy says:
17 January 2012

Everyone just pause and think, what company or business will ever seek to reduce their turnover and describe it as their way to cut customers costs?..

If this were ever the case ‘Which’ would stop using printed matter and just be online, the savings would be printers costs, distribution and of course being able to sack staff no longer needed.

The savings to their customers would probably be 25% at least.

The energy compaines will not get their bonuses when their turnover falls unless the profit goes up, the hapless consumers will be taken for another ride.

@Patsy – oh so true, the meters are intended to boost utility company profits with the consumer paying for it!

Jenny, I was giving free insulation away in 1977, made possible FREE with a Council grant, If anyone over age 50 answered the door we left them well alone and went next door. Why because these numb-skulls were too thick and too time consuming too deal with. You go figure that out? Does it do any good laying loft insulation 10 inches thick instead of 3 inches – no it does not. only the first 3 inches does any good. To keep on topic lets speak about smart meters, one must wonder what is the catch, the gimmick, there is trickery in there somewhere. For instance our house has just had a new water meter put in. Guess what it going to put our water bill up 15%, because the new water meters allows for, and measures oxygen in the water, so it can be included in the bill, the old meters didn’t. Suffice to say the Government body watchdogs cannot curb these companies tyranny and we need to remove the chocolate on the cake with a 20% Power and Water companies excess profits tax.