Smart meters: a guide for households
Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their energy bills and offset price increases.
What are smart meters?
Unlike traditional meters, which simply register a running total of energy used, smart gas and electricity meters can record half-hourly price and consumption data and provide automatic meter readings to your energy supplier.
Most homes have two meters, one for gas and one for electricity – both will be replaced with smart meters. You will also be offered an In-Home Display (sometimes referred to as an IHD), an easy-to-use handheld device that sits within your home.
This will show you the cost and amount of energy you are using, updating every 30 minutes for gas and in near real-time for electricity.
The installation will also include a communications hub, which allows the smart meters and IHD to communicate with each other, and links your smart metering system to the secure national smart meter network.
How do I get a smart meter?
The government has required energy suppliers in England, Scotland and Wales to provide smart meters to their customers.
Get in touch with your energy supplier, which can arrange for smart meters to be installed at a time and date that suits you. You will not be charged for the installation.
Smart meter benefits
Smart meters are underpinning the transition to a greener, more reliable energy system. Our latest analysis shows that the rollout is delivering more benefits to the country than it is costing to deliver.
Engineers will know much faster when power cuts have occurred and will have better information about what caused them. This will enable them to conduct quicker and cheaper repairs and reduce the risk of similar problems occurring in the future.
Smart meters are also helping to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels. For example, innovative smart tariffs allow consumers to save money by using energy away from peak times or when there is excess clean electricity available. Some customers have even been paid to use electricity during very windy days.
Consumers can opt for electric vehicles, heating systems and smart appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, that can connect to the smart metering system to access pricing data. Activity can be programmed to automatically take advantage of cheaper rates, reduce the impact on our energy grid and save consumers money.
Smart meters have a wide range of benefits for individual consumers. For example, customers with smart meters are only charged for the energy they use rather than receiving estimated bills, helping them to budget better.
Smart meters come with an In-Home Display (IHD) which shows households their energy use in near-real time, expressed in pounds and pence. Evidence shows that consumers are using this information to manage their energy use, save money and reduce emissions that lead to climate change.
Because smart meters lower costs to energy suppliers by avoiding manual meter reads and reducing billing queries, some of the cheapest tariffs are available to people who have smart meters installed.
Prepayment customers see additional benefits, as smart meters allow:
- customers to top-up remotely without leaving home
- customers to see credit balances on an easy-to-access In-Home Display, so they do not unknowingly run out of credit
- customers to top-up automatically, so that if credit runs out at night or when the shops are shut, they will not be left without power
- energy suppliers to see when customers are not being supplied with energy so they can offer timely support
Switching energy supplier
Consumers can switch energy supplier no matter which type of meter they have. Smart meters can make switching energy supplier easier, without any interruption to energy readings or bill payments.
Energy suppliers are now installing the latest generation of smart meters, which are connected to a national smart metering communications network from the outset, making them compatible between suppliers from the point of installation.
A number of energy suppliers have also installed first generation smart meters, which initially used their own communication systems. This means consumers with these meters may temporarily lose some smart functionality when they switch. Meters will continue to record energy use accurately like a traditional meter until smart services are restored.
First generation smart meters are being moved onto the national network so that customers regain and keep smart services. Meters are being transferred remotely, without consumers needing to take any action, and priority is given to meters which have temporarily lost some of their smart functionality.
Use the smart meter checker tool to find out what type of smart meter you have in your home and if it is working in smart mode.
Code of practice
The government has put in place a Code of Practice for smart meter installations to protect customers, which requires that:
- energy efficiency advice, tailored to the customer’s circumstances, and an IHD is offered to households as part of the installation
- the consumer is provided with an opportunity to have a demonstration of the smart metering system installed, including relevant information for prepayment and vulnerable consumers in a clear and accurate manner
- permission needs to be given in advance of the visit for installers to be able to talk to consumers about their energy suppliers’ additional products and services
Smart meters must meet strict and regulated accuracy standards, and their accuracy is also monitored through the Office for Product Safety and Standards. Your first bill after installation may be estimated depending on the timing of your billing cycle.
Households have control over who can access their detailed energy consumption data and for what purposes, except where this is required for regulated purposes (for example, billing).
Energy suppliers are subject to a strict data access framework for smart meters. This means you have a choice about how your energy consumption data is used.
The national smart metering infrastructure has been developed from the outset in consultation with experts from industry and government, including the National Cyber Security Centre, part of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
The national smart metering network is separate from the internet and uses a secure system that ensures only authorised parties, such as energy suppliers and network companies, can access. Personal details like your name and address are not stored on smart meters.
The design considerations underpinning the security of the smart metering system are explained in this blog.
Smart meters are covered by UK product safety legislation, which requires manufacturers to ensure that any product placed on the market is safe.
Evidence shows that the rollout of smart meters is delivering a net safety benefit by providing a unique opportunity for installers to identify pre-existing safety issues unrelated to smart metering to be addressed by the energy networks or consumers, helping to make their homes safer.
There is no evidence that smart meters pose any risk to health. The predecessor organisation to the UK Health Security Agency, Public Health England (PHE), has found that exposure to radio waves produced by smart meters is likely to be much lower than that from other everyday devices such as mobile phones and wifi equipment.
More information about this research can be found on the PHE website.
Find further information at:
- Smart Energy GB, the campaign for a smarter Britain
- Simple Energy Advice on smart meters
- the independent Energy Ombudsman, which handles disputes that cannot be resolved between consumers and energy suppliers
- Citizens Advice, which provides confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues
Last updated 14 October 2021 + show all updates
Updated with latest information on the smart meter rollout and further related links.
2017 progress update added.
2016 progress update.
The guide has been updated to provide a link to the new leaflet on the Smart Metering System.