NEA and the Smart Meter Rollout

NEA believes that smart metering has the potential to provide real benefits for vulnerable and low-income householders, but only if these individuals are effectively engaged and supported throughout their smart meter journey.

In particular, we are supportive of the capacity of smart meters to end estimated billing, to provide greater control over personal energy use, and to make payment for ‘pay as you go’ energy much more convenient. We know that many low-income consumers ration their energy use in the Winter due to fear of a shock bill, and smart meters will help put consumers in control of the energy they are using. We also know the existing infrastructure is dated with many consumers still reliant on coin or dial meters, some consumers not paying for their own energy but instead paying for a neighbour’s energy, we still find meters wired up incorrectly or billing erroneously and many tenants (who pay direct to their landlord) unsure whether they are truly paying for what they use.

Our concerns with the smart meter rollout have been mainly based on evidence that without additional support and education some vulnerable householders will not have sufficient understanding of how to interact with their ‘in home display’ effectively and how to act appropriately on the information it provides. At best, this means they could miss out on the opportunity to make sensible adjustments to their energy-usage behaviour; at worst, they could ration their energy usage to a level which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

NEAs focus continues to be to ensure existing controls are properly utilised and enforced, supplier behaviours are closely monitored and consumers are properly protected, engaged and supported throughout the smart meter rollout.


Policy and advocacy:

2013: Smart for All: Understanding Consumer Vulnerability During the Experience of Smart Meter Installation: NEA for DECC and Consumer Focus.

This report for UK Government was one of the first to look at consumer vulnerability during the experience of smart meter installation and provide recommendations on how to optimise the vulnerable customer smart meter journey.

Following phase one, NEA was commissioned to examine more closely the support needs of vulnerable and low-income consumers that specifically relate to enabling and sustaining engagement with smart meters and in-home displays to maximise potential benefits.  Fieldwork for the second phase of research took place during March 2013 and involved thirty-three participants from across the North East of England, Merseyside, East Midlands and London.  The research adopted a qualitative approach and involved twenty-five depth interviews, predominantly by telephone and two focus groups. This second phase of research is presented in this report.

2014: Developing an Extra Help Scheme for Vulnerable Smart Meters Customers: NEA for Citizens Advice.

This research looked at how suppliers and other stakeholders can help vulnerable consumers through the smart meter change. The rich detail of this research helps delivery partners shape their plans, answering such questions such as how to define vulnerability, the importance of choice, and the role of different communication channels.

NEA participates in the Consumer Reference Group (CRG); a forum set up by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) under the Smart Metering Implementation Programme to provide advice and, where appropriate, solutions to mitigate consumer journey challenges arising from consumer experiences in the smart meter roll-out. Recommendations, principles, and amendments to policy are escalated to the Smart Metering Delivery Group (SMDG) by the chair of CRG.


Research and practical delivery:

2015 – 2018: SMART-UP was an EU- funded project running across five countries, and NEAs study sought to understand the impact tailored energy advice can have on the active use of a smart meter and in-home display (IHD) to manage energy consumption in vulnerable households. Our research demonstrated that smart meters can benefit vulnerable and low-income households – but in most cases this requires additional support and advice.

The study found that providing advice and support was successful in enabling vulnerable households to engage and understand their smart meter and in-home display, and with increasing the range of purposes for which people used them, as well as the frequencies with which tasks were carried out. Following the interventions householders were much more likely to use their smart meters and accompanying smart energy displays to undertake activities such as checking how much electricity they were using and setting budgets, and there were increases in the percentage of householders who were also making changes to how they used energy at home. The full UK research report is available at www.nea.org.uk/smart-up and for more information on SMART-UP visit www.smartup-project.eu

 2015 – 2018: energywise – NEA was a partner on the UK Power Networks-led project energywise; exploring how fuel poor customers can benefit from a smart meter and participate in energy saving and demand side response opportunities. The project successfully installed 230 credit smart meters and 93 prepayment smart meters in the homes of 323 social housing tenants living in the deprived borough of Tower Hamlets in East London. In targeting this group, the project generated valuable learnings on how to engage and support energy consumers identified by previous research as vulnerable to realising benefits from their smart meter and in-home display. Specifically: low income households, social housing tenants, prepayment meter consumers and those who do not speak English proficiently. The final report is available here.

2016 – ongoing: Smart Energy GB in Communities – NEA, alongside our sister fuel poverty charity, Energy Action Scotland, leads part of Smart Energy GB’s partnerships programme working at local and regional level with trusted intermediaries to engage people who might otherwise experience a barrier to engaging with the smart meter rollout. Activities include briefings, funding and free resources to support engagement activities. If you would like to get involved to ensure nobody is left behind during the smart meter rollout you can get in touch at communities@nea.org.uk

 

Published on 18-02-2019
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