ENERGY firms will have to power to turn off household central heating under new smart meter proposals.
The plans would allow providers to turn off a household’s heating supply whenever it felt usage was getting too high.
Normally, customers are entitled to compensation if their energy supply is cut off but if the new plans are passed it would see these rights waived.
The proposals have been put forward by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) and are currently being considered by the watchdog, Ofgem.
The firm blames the rise in green energy products like electric cars and heat pumps for putting pressure on the national grid.
It argues that it would only switch off supplies when the grid was in a state of “emergency” and that it would be managed through smart meters.
How to save on your energy bills
SWITCHING energy providers can sound like hassle – but fortunately it’s pretty straight forward to change supplier – and save lots of cash.
Shop around – If you’re on an SVT deal you are likely throwing away more than £300 a year. Use a comparion site such as MoneySuperMarket.com, uSwitch or EnergyHelpline.com to see what deals are available to you.
The cheapest deals are usually found online and are fixed deals – meaning you’ll pay a fixed amount usually for 12 months.
2. Switch – When you’ve found one, all you have to do is contact the new supplier.
It helps to have the following information – which you can find on your bill – to hand to give the new supplier.
- Your postcode
- Name of your existing supplier
- Name of your existing deal and how much you pay
- An up-to-date meter reading
It will then notify your current supplier and begin the switch.
It should take no longer than three weeks to complete the switch and your supply won’t be interrupted in that time.
The power cuts would be temporary and no longer than two hours a day.
Suppliers would need to get permission from households to sign up to the initiative but it wouldn’t need to alert them every time it is was going to cut off supply.
It leaves households at risk of being without energy when they need it but unable to claim compensation for the inconvenience.
But SSEN stressed that the measures would only apply to homes with an electric heat pump and not gas central heating, because they use up more electricity.
Customers would also have the right at any time to ask to be removed from the scheme.
An SSEN spokesman said: “The proposed modification has been tabled to provide a last-resort contingency measure, protecting the security of customer supplies during an emergency scenario.”
They added: “Our preference for managing peaks in electric vehicle demand would always be a market-based solution such as a time-of-use tariff, provided by energy suppliers.
“This proposal provides an additional safeguard in exceptional circumstances.”
But critics believe that it could hand too much power to suppliers and leave homeowners vulnerable.
Energy expert Peter Earl, from comparison site Compare the Market, said: “I would have considerable concern about the impact of these measures.
What to do if you can’t pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
“I would particularly be concerned about the more vulnerable households, and of course vulnerability is not in a constant state for individuals.”
He also acknowledges that there potential issues on the horizon with supplies meeting demands but doesn’t expect consumers make it happen.
Ofgem says that a decisions is unlikely to be made before spring next year.
A spokesperson said: “We would expect the proposer to provide further clarity on the governance arrangements that would apply, including the definition of an emergency situation and how consumer interests would be protected, before this modification is submitted to us for decision.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy added: “Network companies cannot remotely “turn off” smart meters, nor could they control the amount of energy supplied to homes without the express consent of consumers.
“Any proposals from network companies to do this would be rigorously challenged by Ofgem which serves to protect consumers.”
Robert Cheesewright, Director of Communications at Smart Energy GB, said: “Taking part would be completely voluntary for households; would mean choosing to have extra technology, not just a smart meter and only as an emergency safety net for the networks.”
The Warm Home Discount scheme has reopened for applications and you could get £140 off your energy bills if you’re eligible.
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