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VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Yet more smart meter madness

Yet more smart meter madness: The bigger bills are bad enough… we shouldn’t have to worry if they’re accurate, says VICTORIA BISCHOFF

How many times have you reminded someone to turn off a light in the last week?

Do you find yourself pondering how much power it really takes to boil the kettle? Or perhaps, like me, you now run around like a wild thing pulling plugs out of the wall.

If so, you are far from alone. As energy bills soar, families have become borderline obsessed with tracking their usage.

Keeping track: Smart meters are supposed to ensure bills are correct by automatically providing suppliers with accurate readings

Keeping track: Smart meters are supposed to ensure bills are correct by automatically providing suppliers with accurate readings

Even those who have never paid much attention to their energy consumption before are suddenly poring over their bills, desperate to get their heads around unit prices and standing charges.

And yet, the very technology that could make all this so much easier is, to be blunt, a disaster.

Smart meters are supposed to ensure bills are correct by automatically providing suppliers with accurate readings. 

A separate display screen then shows households exactly how much power they are using in pounds and pence. In the current climate then, this should be the smart meter’s moment in the sun — time to show off why the £13 billion-plus rollout was money well spent.

Yet, as we reveal, they are failing people when they need them most.

Since last week, our postbag has been flooded with stories of shambolic smart meters.

I knew the rollout had been chaotic, with installation deadlines repeatedly delayed. But I was taken aback to see just how many readers are stuck with shoddy devices that just don’t work — or, in some cases, have never worked.

The same problems crop up again and again, with providers routinely blaming malfunctioning meters on poor signal. 

And many of you say you have been waiting not months but years(!) for your supplier to send out an engineer to fix them — that’s if you can even get through on the phone to log a complaint.

Even those tasked with installing the meters are now so fed up they are warning households on the day they get a smart meter to expect problems. Hardly reassuring when families are already desperately worried about rising bills.

We are so concerned by what we’ve heard that we have now sent a dossier of your correspondence to the energy watchdog for investigation. 

And with more letters still coming in, we’ll be sending a second batch next week. Someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring this technology is fit for purpose before it’s pushed into even more people’s homes.

There is so much consumers have no control over right now, be it spiralling wholesale prices, interest rates or the plummeting pound. 

At the very least, they should be afforded the peace of mind that those bigger bills landing on the mat are definitely correct.

Vulnerable failed

Speaking of energy market mayhem, I was horrified that more than a dozen suppliers have been routinely failing vulnerable households.

Thirteen firms were found by watchdog Ofgem to have ‘minor’ or ‘moderate’ issues with how they support customers in payment difficulties. A further three, including energy giant Scottish Power, demonstrated severe weaknesses.

The regulator added that its investigation also revealed a number of companies had ‘non-existent policy’ relating to those struggling to afford their bills.

Some were failing to identify customers at risk, not providing staff with adequate training or — worse — dishing out unaffordable repayment plans.

This is unforgiveable. Firms must mend their ways ahead of what will be a difficult winter for millions.

Eyes on the prize

To end on a cheerier note, the nation’s favourite savings product received a timely boost yesterday.

Anyone who regularly reads my column will know how much I love my Premium Bonds. So I was delighted that NS&I has added an extra £76 million to its prize fund.

Granted, the odds of each £1 bond winning a prize have only edged up from 24,500-to-1 to 24,000-to-1. But this is still the best they have been in nearly a decade.

And amid the doom and gloom, that monthly hit of hope and excitement is a welcome reprieve.

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