Smart meters must protect consumer interests in U.K.


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — February 8, 2011 – As suppliers start to install smart meters ahead of the mandated rollout in Britain it is important to ensure the continued safeguarding of consumers”Ÿ interests, says the regulator Ofgem in a new document setting out proposals for these “early movers.”

The so called Smart Metering Spring Package from Ofgem, which is now subject to consultation, is intended to fill the gap prior to the development of a full regulatory framework by the Smart Metering Implementation Program. It focuses on remote switching to prepayment and remote disconnection as well as supplier switching, among other issues.

With remote disconnection and remote switching between credit and prepayment mode, there will no longer be an operational need to visit the premises to disconnect or install a prepayment meter. Ofgem proposes that suppliers be required to have regard to the guidance issued around the safety and practicability of a customer being offered prepayment, and that information must be provided on how to use a prepayment meter or smart meter in prepayment mode, including the methods of topping-up that are available to the customer.

Before disconnection a supplier should identify whether the customer or occupants of premises are vulnerable, and there should be a commitment to rapid reconnection and the payment of compensation if a customer is disconnected in error. Further, alternative forms of disconnection enabled by smart meters, namely load limiting and credit limiting, should not be used as back door alternatives to disconnection.

Ofgem says it is important that where a customer has a smart meter installed this does not create a barrier to switching supplier, and it recognizes that in these very early stages of rollout a smart meter may need to revert to dumb mode on change of supplier. However, since a smart prepayment meter cannot be used in dumb prepayment mode, and in order to encourage suppliers to find a solution to this issue and to protect consumers in the meantime, Ofgem proposes that suppliers should not be allowed to install smart meters for use in prepayment mode unless they could be used in prepayment mode by an incoming supplier.

Ofgem also comments on privacy issues in the Spring Package, saying the organization will work with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and use its own consumer protection powers as appropriate to ensure that suppliers are complying with existing legislation and are making clear to consumers the choices open to them.

The consultation is open until April 13 and Ofgem envisages that any changes to the suppliers’ license conditions will be in place by the end of the summer.