Middle-class homeowners are staging a major backlash against a government move to install smart energy meters in their homes.
Money Mail has been flooded with letters and emails from readers who have refused to have their old analogue meters replaced with digital ones.
The Government wants every home to have a smart meter by 2020 – but has given homeowners the option of refusing.
The new meters mean you won’t have to ring in readings every month and you’ll get more accurate bills.
Because they give automatic updates on a computer-like screen, detailing how much power you are using, it should also be easier to save money.
No entry: John Green is adamant he doesn’t want a high-tech smart meter – so he padlocked his meter box
Two weeks ago, we revealed that firms were using high-pressure tactics to bully people into signing up, making it seem like the digital devices are a legal requirement and threatening to take away cheap deals if you refuse.
But customers have responded angrily, with one man even putting a padlock on his existing meter so that it can’t be changed.
Understandably, some homeowners are concerned about privacy and hacking. Others don’t like the idea that the meter might stop working properly if they switch to cheaper deals. Some are even worried about possible fire or health risks.
But the overriding message in your letters to Money Mail is crystal clear: you do not want smart meters fitted in your homes. Here, readers explain why they are refusing to join the energy meter revolution.
I’VE PADLOCKED MY METER, SO HANDS OFF!
John Green, 68, from Skipton, North Yorkshire, is so against having a smart meter that he’s put a padlock on his existing meter box to prevent it being replaced when he’s out.
Doubts: John, pictured with wife Eileen, is wary of the Government initiative
Money Mail has revealed that some firms are setting up appointments to install smart meters without being asked. Firms insist they would never enter a customer’s property without permission, but that hasn’t stopped John taking precautions.
The retired head teacher, says: ‘I just don’t trust anything that is a Government-sponsored IT initiative. We’ve seen so many problems in the past, whether it’s the NHS or HM Revenue & Customs. I think this could end up being another botched job.
‘I’ve heard they only save you around £20 a year and yet they cost suppliers £400 each to install. I’ll end up paying for this, even though I don’t want one. It’s like we are being bullied into it.
‘They say smart meters will give us accurate bills, but what if they get hacked? I don’t like anything digital – I won’t use internet banking. I much prefer things to be analogue.
‘I read my meter regularly and I know exactly how to calculate how much my gas and electricity is.’
Smart Energy GB, a government body set up to promote smart meters, says the devices have been designed with top cyber security experts, including the National Cyber Security Centre (part of Government Communications Headquarters) to ensure they’re as secure as possible.
Your data will also be transmitted safely using a dedicated and secure wireless network.
THESE ARE JUST ‘SPIES UNDER THE STAIRS’
Bob Ashton, 74, calls the new meters ‘spies under the stairs’. The retired Corgi gas inspector, from Barnstaple, Devon, says: ‘As someone who spent nearly 50 years in the gas industry, I have been closely watching the ducking and diving associated with smart meters.
‘There’s the potential for them to be hacked, so I’d be worried about my privacy. I try to keep offline as much as possible because I think it’s safer and keeps me in control.
‘I don’t use online banking or social media sites such as Facebook.
‘I’m also worried about what the energy companies will do with the data they have on how much gas and electricity people use at different times of the day. They say it’s going to make our bills cheaper, but if they can charge more at peak times, it could end up being more expensive.’
Concerns: Bob Ashton, 74, spent 50 years in the gas industry and calls the new meters ‘spies under the stairs’
Helen Scholfield, 73, a lecturer from Bromley, Kent, also resents the pressure being put on her to have a smart meter.
‘My provider keeps telling me they have a ‘legal requirement’ to change my meter. They also gave me an appointment without me requesting one. These bully-boy tactics make me suspicious of their motives – I think it will benefit the energy companies more than their customers.
‘I’ve told them numerous times that I don’t want one, but they make you feel like you don’t have a choice.’
Smart Energy GB says the new meters do not store any personal information that could identify you, such as your name, address or bank account. They only record how much gas and electricity you use, and there are strict rules on who can access this data and for what they can use it.
WE’LL BE STUCK ON RIP-OFF TARIFFS
Ian and Julie Gillard, from Chelmsford, Essex, say they don’t want a smart meter because it will be more difficult to switch deals.
Author Joy James is concerned about meter readers losing their jobs
The Gillards change tariff every year to avoid ending up on their supplier’s more expensive standard rate, often shaving around £100 off their annual bills. But, at present, many smart meters stop working when you switch, because different suppliers use different technology.
Firms say they are working on a solution and plan to update all smart meters remotely with new software.
They also say their new models of smart meter will continue to work regardless of who your supplier is. But these improved models are only just being trialled, so you’re unlikely to get one soon.
Ian, 65, a semi-retired business consultant, says: ‘Even if the new supplier agreed to fit another smart meter for free, it would still be really disruptive having to wait in for the engineer every time you wanted to switch energy deals.
‘We’re also already careful with how much energy we use, so I don’t think it’d save us any money. It’s not like we would stop boiling the kettle or having a hot bath just because the meter showed us it cost an extra few pence.’
Smart Energy GB says many households are already using the meters to identify situations where they are using a lot of energy and reduce their costs.
On top of this, customers will pay only for the energy they’ve actually used, rather than being billed based on estimates, reducing the risk of overpaying.
WE FEAR FIRE AND HEALTH RISKS
Paul Wilbraham, 71, a retired chartered electrical engineer from Chester, is also refusing to consider having a smart meter installed until they are compatible with all suppliers.
‘I’ve been told that there is going to be a software fix to make the old generation of smart meters work when you switch supplier,’ he says. ‘But I’m not convinced.’
Paul is also very concerned about whether the new meters could be a fire hazard if not fitted properly.
He says: ‘In my day, you had to do a recognised apprenticeship of four or five years before you were deemed competent to deal with wiring in homes.
‘Some of the people installing smart meters have had very little training, from what I’ve heard.
‘There have been reports of fires starting after smart meter installations, and I’m worried it might be because some suppliers are using less experienced fitters because of the huge rush to get them rolled out.’
Mike and Christine Pfeiffer, both 68, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, are worried about security and the potential health hazard.
Mike and Christine Pfeiffer, both 68, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, are worried about security and the potential health hazard
Mike, a retired sales director, says: ‘We’re not happy about the continuous transmission of data via radio frequency signals and internet connections. Both of these can be hacked to obtain confidential information.
‘There is also a school of thought that radio frequency emissions can be cancer-inducing, particularly in children and pregnant women.
‘And it’s been shown that dogs have reacted adversely when kept in the vicinity of an installed smart meter and its emissions.
‘We also feel that smart meters hand too much control to the suppliers, who, in theory, could disconnect individual households – even the most vulnerable – at the click of a mouse.’
Helen Scholfield resents the pressure being put on her to have a smart meter
Smart Energy GB says that the meters have undergone one of the most rigorous safety testing schemes in the world and that installers are given extensive training to ensure the highest standards are maintained.
It adds that research by the government watchdog Public Health England shows exposure to radio waves from smart meters is one million times less than international guideline levels and far lower than from other everyday household devices, such as microwaves and TVs.
There are also strict regulations to stop energy suppliers suddenly switching off or disconnecting your gas or electricity supply.
OUR BILLS COULD BE HIKED AT PEAK TIMES
Terence and Jean Dosdale, 69 and 59 respectively, from Leeds, fear energy firms will use the data about their power usage to introduce surge pricing at peak times.
This would mean the cost of power could change throughout the day, depending on how much is being used.
Terence says: ‘With smart meters, tariffs can potentially change hour by hour, day by day or month by month. It’ll make it impossible to properly compare prices.
‘The most complicated current situation is for users with meters that charge different day and night rates, where two such readings are needed.
‘But if companies can start charging higher rates at different times of day, it’s going to make it very difficult to know whether you’ll be better off with one supplier or another. That’s going to suit the energy firms nicely.’
Smart Energy GB says it is up to you how often you want to share your energy usage with your supplier. So you can send half-hourly, daily or monthly readings. It adds that no one is obliged to sign up to a time-of-use tariff that offers cheaper energy at off-peak times.
Terence and Jean Dosdale fear energy firms will use the data about their power usage to introduce surge pricing at peak times
Joy James, 78, an author from Nottingham, says: ‘I’ve consistently refused to have a smart meter for the obvious, but simple, reason that it spells the death knell of yet another man’s job.
‘The meter reader has done a good job for years and I want him or her to continue as before, but my supplier keeps badgering me to move to a smart meter.
‘It’s irritating – I feel like we are all being pushed to use machines for everything. What is wrong with the old system, anyway?’
Smart Energy GB says the smart meter rollout is expected to create 11,000 new jobs for installers. There will be an additional 3,000 high-quality jobs for various support roles – for example, supervisory, safety and audit positions.