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Smart Meter Protocols: Prioritizing Society’s Needs Over Utilities

Utility Week – Smart Meters, flexibility and consumer behaviour

Ollie Gray, business development director, Charis

It feels as though the last few months have been a case of complete disconnect between the government, energy companies, utility suppliers – and the general public.

Prices are going up, with increases passed on to the public. Then wholesale gas prices have dropped – but that drop won’t be reflected in household bills. The most vulnerable are at risk of their homes being invaded and meters stripped out to be replaced by prepayment meters – and then charged at the highest rate possible, even though they are the ones who can least afford it.

The latest sorry saga is the fact that millions of pounds of energy vouchers are not being cashed in. According to a recent BBC report, 380,000 vouchers, which should have gone to 19 per cent of homes, have not been cashed in. This amounts to as much as £50m of unclaimed payments.

Are we seeing the results of how the cost of living crisis is increasing the polarisation between the most vulnerable in society and those who are just about managing? With more households on smart meters becoming eligible for government support, those funds are automatically transferred via direct debit. Those on prepayment meters have to wait for the vouchers to be distributed and then physically take them to a PayPoint or Post Office.

There is a growing call in the industry for a social energy tariff, which would create a uniform base for those who are most in need in our society, whereby they do not have to worry or be concerned about having a warm home when the temperatures plunge. Logistically it would be so much easier to administer, replacing the prepayment meter with a universally recognised social tariff meter, which is linked to utility suppliers, who all have a statutory obligation to service a certain percentage of households on the social tariff.

That’s the goal, and there’s a lot of talking before we can get to that point. In the meantime, it is important to streamline the flow of money from the grant sources to those who need it most quickly and efficiently. The Charis Shop and our digital payment card are both the result of understanding how households behave around the application of grants and the way that the funds need to be used.

Full tracking is inbuilt into the system as a whole, so for the distributing agent, there is full accountability, which fulfils their statutory reporting obligations. For the householder, the energy payments are available via text or email in the form of an electronic Mastercard, so the physical act of redeeming the ‘voucher’ is as familiar and easy as paying online by card. The only difference is that the funds are digitally limited to paying for their energy only and cannot be used anywhere else.