We moved house last year and the new property already had a smart meter fitted – something which I have not had before. Since then, we have switched supplier to Shell Energy and moved again when Shell was bought by Octopus Energy.

I have no quibbles with any of the suppliers, all of whom have been communicative – particularly in regards to the Octopus takeover – and have provided regular bills which are easy to understand and information on their websites about the tariffs and various charges.

However, I have read many articles about the limitations of smart meters and instances where they have ceased to work or provided faulty readings which result in customers being over or undercharged. Often it seems that the problems start where a customer has switched suppliers.

What I’d like to know is: with no standard meter with which to cross-check my smart meter readings, how can I be confident that I am being charged the correct amount? 

Without a doubt, energy meter problems – and smart meter problems in particular – dominate my inbox more than any other type of complaint.

According to figures from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), 4.31 million smart meters are not working properly. That’s out of 34.8 million smart meters in the UK. This tends to refer to meters not transmitting data, which is how most meters are identified as faulty. Yet on top of that, I hear from a huge number of readers who are disputing the actual meter consumption readings on their smart meters too.

This is really frustrating because smart meters were supposed to make our lives so much easier, by helping us monitor or energy usage more effectively and taking away the hassle of providing regular readings. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The new generation of smart meters appear to be much more effective. But before we tackle the common problems, here’s a quick smart meter recap to help you know what kind of meter you have.

There are two main types of smart meter. The first-generation meters – known as SMETS1 – were installed in around 15.7 million properties. However, because of an industry and Government push to get smart meters fitted in every household, mistakes were made. There was a notable shortage of qualified and trained engineers to fit the meters. However many of the first generation of smart meter were also not compatible with different energy suppliers, which meant if you wanted to switch energy firms, you’d often need a new meter.

Lots of people began to complain that their meter didn’t work, the screen went blank or the meter was significantly overestimating energy consumption. While the current data doesn’t break down definitively which meters are playing up the most, it’s reasonable to assume that many of the problems come from the first generation.

There are lots of little things you can look for to see which generation of meter you have, but the only definitiveway to know for sure is to contact your energy supplier.

Troubleshooting and sorting out problems

Contrary to what many people assume, your smart meter isn’t using your Wi-Fi network at home. The ‘hub’ transmits data to your meter then on to the Data Communications Company (DCC) network via phone or radio masts, then on to your energy supplier.

The signal can be affected by poor installation, problems with the network in your area or technical errors with the meter itself. However, if the problem is just with the sending of the data, you should just be able to take manual readings while the problem is sorted out. This isn’t ideal, given the backlog of people awaiting repairs or new meters, but it will solve the problem for the time being. Snap a photo of the meter display too, just in case there’s a dispute further down the line.

If you are disputing the readings themselves, then you’ll need to do a few tests before they send an engineer out.

Sometimes troubleshooting is easy. Smart meter displays can flash ‘error’, ‘help’ ‘battery’ or other warning messages. However, if the meter seems to be working normally, you should be asked to take a few readings over a short period – usually seven days.

There are a range of other technical tests that can be done before an engineer is sent out. Make sure you exhaust them all though. My energy supplier has just informed me that if an engineer visits, they will charge me £80 if the meter is found to be working correctly. I don’t think this is fair – we pay part of our standing charge towards the cost of servicing and regular readings of our meters – so don’t be afraid to say you’re going to make a complaint about this or any other unfair charges.

Do a bit of detective work too. Prices have been volatile for the last three years, so find your previous bills and look at your average unit consumption for gas/electricity through the year. If your usage has increased significantly despite your lifestyle not really changing, you can argue that logically, there’s a problem.

If the problem isn’t sorted out then make a formal complaint. The business has a maximum of eight weeks to sort out the problem. Failing that you can go to the Energy Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is a free and impartial alternative to the courts and have seen a vast array of complaints about wonky meters.

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