Companies are to face restrictions around how they sell and market their products and around the data they can collect about their customers when mass rollout of smart meters gets underway.
Under new guidelines proposed today by the Energy and Climate Change
Minister Charles Hendry, all sales will be banned during the installation of smart meters
and installers will need the permission of customers before they visit if they want to market any products to households and businesses. There will be restrictions on data energy companies and other suppliers can hold about their customers. And, in a bid to help consumers save energy and cut their bills, smart meter installers will have to provide energy efficiency
advice and all households will be offered an in-home display allowing them to see what energy is being used and how much it is costing.
The Government wants 30 million homes and small businesses to have smart meters installed by 2019. Smart meters give consumers access to accurate information and mean they no longer have to rely on estimated bills. But the cost of the rollout, set to start in 2014, has been estimated at £11.7 billion and consumer groups are concerned the programme could leave consumers short-changed and their privacy undermined.
Hendry said the guidelines proposed today were "tough" and would offer protection to consumers.
"In less than three years energy suppliers will begin the mass rollout of smart meters across the country and I am determined that consumers are at the heart of this ambitious programme. That is why today we are proposing tough guidelines on installation, which will minimise inconvenience and help people to make the most of their smart meters to save energy and save money,’ he said.
"In addition, I want to be absolutely clear to consumers that they will be in control of their energy consumption data. So apart from where it is required for billing or other regulated purposes, it will be for consumers to decide who can access their data."
Among the other measures the Government is planning to introduce is a coordinated communications strategy to make it easier for consumers to understand how to use smart meters and mechanisms to ensure vulnerable and low income consumers can benefit from the rollout.
The Government has also confirmed that suppliers should develop a code of practice covering a range of key areas around the installation process.
Christine McGourty, director of Energy UK, which represents Britain’s gas and electricity industry, said energy suppliers were working closely with the Government and other stakeholders to ensure that smart meters delivered "real benefits to people in homes and businesses around Britain, and to ensure that protections for customers are robust".
Consumer Focus welcomed today’s proposals, but said more work was needed.
"We welcome the banning of sales during installation and that marketing will only be allowed if the customer agrees. This shows the Government has listened to consumers. We support the proposals to address consumer concerns around the privacy of information," Mike O’Connor, chief executive of the consumer group. "But, to make this work, people must be aware of their rights and the choices available to them on how much information is passed to suppliers."
But the measures are unlikely to go far enough for Which?, the consumer campaigning charity, which has called on the Government to halt its smart meter programme following its own research, which concluded current Government strategy for smart meters was flawed and would cost consumers millions of pounds more than necessary.
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