Are Budget Smart Meters Really So Smart?

- by Erin Redfern

Budget smart meters have faced problems since companies rolled them out into UK homes in 2009. Unlike the old-fashioned utility meters they replaced, budget smart meters don’t need reading. So, what’s gone wrong with smart meters, and is it fixable? Let’s take a look.

budget smart meter - cashfloat

Like their old-fashioned counterparts, budget smart meters measure fuel consumption and allow energy providers and customers to see how much energy is being used. These new meters differ because they automatically send your readings to the energy supplier via mobile networks. This innovation ends the practice of estimated bills resulting from consumers’ manual readings. Rather than overpaying, customers now pay for what they use and sometimes find themselves hundreds of pounds in credit. Budget smart meters aim to eliminate the need for payday loans to cover excessive energy bills.

Budget smart meter controversy

Energy companies planned to replace 53 million old-style meters by 2020 at a cost of 1 billion pounds. They intended to publicise cheaper time tariffs to encourage people to use electricity at odd times of day in a bid to smooth out electricity usage over the grid. However, unsatisfactory customer reports across the country prompted the government to halt compulsory installation, although customers who still wanted the new meters could benefit from the offer until 2020.

The government should set the nation’s energy policy, not the suppliers, who claim that continually rising energy bills are due to the cost of creating green energy, including:

  • Restrictions on the use of carbon-based energy sources 
  • The introduction of budget smart meters 
  • Increasing use of nuclear power 

The early smart meters that companies installed in British homes were particularly problematic. They were incompatible with the new national communication network providing energy usage data to the suppliers. When customers switched providers, these meters ‘went dumb’, no longer able to transmit data and calls for manual readings. The problem was that budget smart meters are more difficult to read than the old-fashioned ones. The government insists that these meters will eventually be compatible. Energy companies are not so sure and fear they may need to replace them.

Smart meters make mistakes

budget smart meter - cashfloat

The belief that consumers would gain more control over their bills has been proved wrong. Many energy companies still prefer to estimate yearly power usage and divide the amount into 12 monthly instalments, which leaves many customers still hundreds of pounds in credit to their suppliers even when they have a smart meter. This does not achieve the original aim: enabling customers to save money and avoid taking out short-term loans to pay their growing energy bills.

After being assured that a smart meter would negate the use of estimated readings, Angela Forman, who lives in East Sussex, agreed to have one installed. She had previously been on an Energy 7 tariff that takes separate readings at different times of the day when energy is less costly. Her first bill was £114, which was a surprise as she usually paid £94. After an investigation, the energy supplier found that her new smart meter was sending estimated readings to them and costing her more money.

So what have we learned so far?

  • Smart meters were designed to end estimated bills by conveying actual energy use to providers
  • Energy bills have increased due to the government’s green energy demands on suppliers
  • New meters did not connect with the updated communications network, and people had to read them manually
  • Energy suppliers still estimate bills
  • Some smart meters still send estimated readings to suppliers
  • Social media is a popular platform for sharing incredible bills

Customers use social media networks to share their massive power bills with the rest of the world. Mark Umpleby recently tweeted a photo showing £33,183 worth of gas used in a single day. This volume of gas was 2,765,165% higher than his actual consumption. Usman Hussain also shared a picture of the incredible energy reading from his meter, showing a preposterous reading that would cost him £9,600 for one day’s energy consumption.

Strong signal needed for smart meters

People with weak mobile network signals in their local area have found that smart meters don’t work. This phenomenon caused Mrs Foreman’s meter to go dumb and send estimated readings to her supplier. The engineer who fitted Suzanne Harvey’s new meter told her she might have problems with the poor signal quality, which resulted in her not receiving a bill for a year. This problem will apparently be resolved by the new national network. Some customers have had difficulty reading their meter’s ‘smart interface’. People hope that companies will start developing mobile apps more like the one from Ovo, one of the newer providers. The Ovo app allows users to see the current balance, usage and costs they incurred over previous months.

Companies hoped using smart meters would enable customers to save energy and develop better usage habits. In fact, according to Dutch researchers, appliances like LED lights and dimmer switches, designed to reduce usage, change the current and confuse smart meters into producing higher readings. Efforts to reduce energy consumption are rendered useless because of technical problems like these. Data from British Gas shows that customers using smart meters successfully save around £30 a year on their energy bills.

Budget smart meter risks

The BBC’s Watchdog programme reported links between smart meters and fires. Although, it was not clear whether the meters or the installations were at fault. Security firms expressed concerns that meters could be hacked and infected with viruses. Hackers claimed they could make smart meters blow up. Intelligence services investigated and neutralised the terrorist threat. The authorities continuously assure the public that the meters are safe.


Cashfloat, which lends money to people needing bad credit loans, examines the subject of budget smart meters: It appears that the introduction of smart meters has many problems. Most energy providers still send estimated monthly energy bills. People are still overpaying, and there are very few advantages for customers. In light of all the reported problems, it’s hardly surprising that customers have little faith in their meters providing accurate readings. As for saving energy, the current situation has left customers fully aware of how much energy they consume at different times of the day. Using the timer functions on their appliances at the appropriate times will save them energy and money.

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About The Author
Erin Redfern
Erin, a native Londoner, combines her love for the city with her passion for writing. With a first-class degree in Mathematics, Elizabeth chose to pursue a career aligned with her real passion—writing.
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