Smart meter warning: Households told faulty devices may leave 'large unexpected bills' as pensioner hit with £5,000 shock

Older man reading letters

Smart meter problems have led to some people building up debt

Temi Laleye

By Temi Laleye

Published: 23/05/2024

- 14:37

Smart meter problems have led to some people building up debt due to readings not being sent automatically, a charity warned.

Britons have been warned that faulty smart meters could cause "large and unexpected bills" with one device landed a pensioner with a shock catch-up bill of almost £5,000.

Despite over half of British homes now having a smart meter, new research from Citizens Advice suggests millions of households are being let down by meter problems suppliers are failing to fix.

Nearly four million smart meters across Great Britain are not working properly, Government figures show.

Despite more than half of British homes having a smart meter, suppliers continue to let customers down as they are often "nowhere to be found" when problems arise with them, the consumer charity said.

It has called for new rules to ensure energy suppliers identify and fix problems as quickly as possible.

Citizens Advice is particularly worried that people could end up with huge unexpected bills if their supplier isn't able to take an automatic reading for an extended period of time.

This is what happened to Franc Kolar who ended up with a shock catch-up bill of almost £5,000.

Man reading letters

Franc Kolar ended up with a shock catch-up bill of almost £5,000


The 71-year-old from West Yorkshire switched suppliers because his old company’s smart meter didn’t work in his cellar.

So his new supplier assured him the meter would work in his home, however, this was not the case.

Occasionally he would get a text from the new supplier asking if he could send a manual meter reading, but he thought it was a standard message sent to all customers.

He thought smart meters would take their own readings, which would be accurate.

"I didn’t send readings because I was promised their smart meters were absolutely spot-on.

"The next thing I knew the bill just mounted and mounted. Eventually I thought: ‘What if? ‘I’d better give them a reading, just in case’ and so I did it. I suddenly got a bill saying I was £4,700 behind; I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked.

"I’d been paying my bills all along but they were estimated. I've been paying back £450-600 every month for a good couple of years now.

"It definitely has affected my trust. I keep thinking anybody can just come to the door now and tell me anything. It would be the same with solar panels. I would think people are there only to sell things."

Current rules allow energy suppliers to bill customers retrospectively for up to a year’s worth of energy bills if, for example, a meter is not providing readings correctly.

Around a fifth of households surveyed by Citizens Advice, equivalent to almost three million households, said they still had to regularly submit meter readings because their smart meter was not doing it automatically. A third of households said they had issues with their in-home display, and a quarter experienced problems with billing.

Regulator Ofgem said it has written to suppliers over the connectivity concerns, saying "customers rightly expect their suppliers to treat them fairly".The charity wants suppliers to be forced to meet new Guaranteed Standards of Performance, which would ensure the causes of smart meter issues are diagnosed in a timely manner and a repair plan put in place.

If suppliers don’t meet these standards, affected consumers would be automatically compensated.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: "The whole point of smart meters is to empower households to save energy and money, but in reality, millions are missing out on those benefits due to problems with technology and poor supplier service.


"Energy companies are very keen for customers to get a smart meter but when issues arise they are often nowhere to be found. That has to change.

"Suppliers have been far too sluggish in fixing issues with problem meters. New obligations and stronger accountability measures are needed to restore public trust in this vital tool to reach net zero."

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokeswoman said: "Our official statistics show the vast majority of meters are working in smart mode – almost 90 per cent of the 35 million smart meters installed.

"Energy suppliers are required to keep their customers’ meters working and Ofgem is responsible for regulating them against this requirement.

"Any issues with smart meters and in-home display screens should be addressed promptly and we will soon announce plans to drive better service for new and existing smart meter customers."

An Ofgem spokeswoman said: "While the majority of smart meters are working correctly, we’ve asked suppliers to provide us with more detail on how they plan to tackle connectivity issues.

"Suppliers are responsible for making sure their customers’ smart meters operate correctly, and we expect them to communicate with their customers clearly if there are any issues with their smart meter."

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