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back to article OFFICIAL: Smart meters won't be compulsory

So-called 'smart meters' will not be mandatory, the energy minister has confirmed. The pledge was made by Charles Hendry last Thursday, and confirmed to us by the Department of Energy and Climate Change today. The energy minister in the previous Labour government, one Ed Miliband, introduced legislation to make smart meters …

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Facepalm

Mandatory Standard API's

I've got gas and electricity smart meters supplied and fitted by eOn. All good, all working, very happy with it. I've now moved to nPower who were cheaper at that specific moment in time, and they don't support these smart meters. So now I'm back to reading the meter reading off of the 'consumer' read-out panel and typing that into their website every month because their computermabob sez no. However, I have been put on their waiting list to receive a NEW smart meter as and when their trial moves to the next stages.

Its a frankly dumb way to work and I'm sure all it involves is sending a man out to change the modem strings, but logic and utility providers is like water and oil.

I can't even write an API to do it myself as no-one will give me the encryption details of how to information is sent from the meter to the consumer display, and they didn't see the logic of adding a USB port to be able to download the data.

So, in my experience, smart meters are just dumb meters with blinkenlights.

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Anonymous Coward

"didn't see the logic of adding a USB port"

Because it would be an open invitation to pwn it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mandatory Standard API's

"smart meters are just dumb meters with blinkenlights"

The irony here would be that after sacking all the minimum wage meter readers, they end up having to hire the same number of IT professionals to visit each meter and twiddle with it every five minutes. Except they won't be on the minimum wage, and customers' tariffs will rise to compensate!

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That's the gov't's fault

As a long time worker for just such a smart meter company, I can safely say that this particular problem was the regulator's.

They never stipulated an open standard among those that exist (dlms) and neither an open API.

Which is why utilities scrambled to get their versions as the new standard. It's the VCR wars all over again. And to the detriment not of just of the consumer but of the wider market too.

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Hold on a mo. I thought the meters were fitted by the distributor, not by the company from whom you buy your utilities. Our existing meters were very definitely fitted by the distributor and not the company who bills us.

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Holmes

Smart meters will not be compulsory, but they'll just put you on the most expensive tariff if you don't have one. I wouldn't even like to think how smart meters would work for people on pre-pay tariffs.

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I suspect that they will become compulsory over time. Your meter must be replaced periodically. All the companies will do is make sure a few years down the line that all their meters are smart meters. Then your option only option on receiving your new meter will be to have the "smart" bit disabled. The next step from there will be to either try to sneakilly enable it when you sign a new contract, switch suppliers, change tariffs or whatever. Or better still a new bill payer moves into the property.

And what are the odds that once your property is on smart metering there won't be any option to turn it off.

There's compulsory and then there's compulsory.

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I can't believe anyone would use an EM argument to refuse one: refusing to shell out £340 and fears of increased bills are the real put-off I'd say.

Personally I'd go for one but the energy companies should be covering the entire bill since they will be saving that back on staff and such.

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Alert

I agree...

...but why does the recent behaviour of our energy companies make you think they won't just pass the costs onto us in the form of higher bills, and pocket the staff cost savings themselves?

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Anonymous Coward

Err...

The meters in your house need to be replaced every so-often, they'll just replace them when they need to be replaced rather than a big-bang rollout. With a big-bang rollout, you tend to get lots of meters needing to be replaced in another big-bang, ten years or so down the line, rather than nice and steadily. I can't imagine that the smart ones will cost particularly much more than the unsmart ones.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd be more concerned about

remote disconnection and spying on/controlling what stuff you use and when you use it.

Are EM issues just going to become a standard excuse- "yeah, i'm EM-sensitive, here's the aluminium headwear to prove it, please ignore the TV and computer in the corner"?

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Boffin

AC@16:32

Replacement cycle on UK meters is around 20-30 years.

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Sorry it's way less than that these days.Our meter was swapped out after about ten years.

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@Grease Monkey

Great sample size.

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saving that back on staff

Yeah right. For 6 quid I can (on a day I choose) get a bloke to drive a van to my house, pick up a parcel, move it half way across the country and another bloke drives it to someone else's door.

How much does it cost to have a bloke walk up the street reading every 5th or 10th meter/whatever? Meter reading staff savings will take more than 50 years to break even on a 340 quid install cost.

The Energy companies don't give a shit, idiot politicians say everyone gets a smart meter put your costs on their bill, no skin off their nose either way. You are not going to be charged 340 quid to have a meter installed the cost of the whole scheme goes on everyone's bill, refuse to have one installed and you are still paying for everyone else's.

The news is if you are a loon or something you are allowed to refuse to have one installed, real news would be if energy companies were allowed not to offer them so their customers didn't have to pay for them.

The problem is the technically illiterate eco green willy waving tossers running the country who believe fanciful calculations of how much less energy we will use if only we had an indoor meter showing us how much we are using, that and the idea of forcing us to pay for personal energy guilt meters was irresistible.

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FAIL

@JP19

The most stupid thing about this is, everyone can have a display of their consumption in their houses for about £30 or less. DIY job. No need to change the meter. Plenty of energy companies already give them away for free!! So, what does a smart meter add? If they want accurate meter readings, they could either a) actually do their jobs and read meters or b) give the customer a discount to read and telephone/mail/email/web site their readings!! Simples really.

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Being able to display the current consumption has nothing to do with smart metering, can you explain where you think there's a connection. Some of those things are fairly inaccurate anyway.

As for your comment about meter reading your billing company* doesn't read the meter. When the market was deregulated it was decided that there would be meter reading companies and the billing companies are tied to these companies whether they like it or not. Most of the billing companies would probably rather do their own reading or rather sub their readings to a supplier of their choice rather than use the current system.

* I don't like the term supplier in this instance because there is no way to ensure that you get your electricity from them. The national grid doesn't work like that. It's all a very complex and stupid system where you pay your billing company and then they buy electricity wholesale based on the amount their customers have used.

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Anonymous Coward

@JP19

"The problem is the technically illiterate eco green willy waving tossers running the country who believe fanciful calculations of how much less energy we will use if only we had an indoor meter showing us how much we are using, that and the idea of forcing us to pay for personal energy guilt meters was irresistible."

Unfortunately it likely wasn't their idea in the first place and more probably the idea of some people in the energy supply companies who then had a quiet word with them and passed over a brown envelope or promised a non exec directorship. The meters they are suggesting should be installed are (according to a friend who does MechEng and is involved in renewables) absolutely bloody useless in terms of showing energy usage etc and giving you proper statistics from an eco type persons point of view.

Follow the money (again).

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Questions

So is this a UK thing or just England & Wales?

What happens if the meter can't communicate with base for a prolonged period of time because the tower is down or I've put a lead box round the meter?

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According to Scottish Power http://www.scottishpower.co.uk/support-centre/energy-efficiency/smart-metering.aspx they are due to start rolling out new meters this year - which is a problem, as they replaced my meter last year, as part of standard service - it had been in use for more than 15 years.

It doesn't appear to be a smart meter - well, certainly no smarter than the one that I used to have, and they still want to call round to read it...

Given the mess that the installer made (I was picking tiny fragments of copper swarf from the carpet for weeks) I hope that they don't want to come back...I hope that this gives me the right to say stuff it...

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Anonymous Coward

Not mandatory but expensive if you refuse...

Bit of a straw many argument he gives there. Why would they need to introduce a criminal offense of refusing to have a smart meter, or a requirement to force entry via a warrant to fit one? Surely the energy companies just telling the customer "it's a condition of service for provision of electricity that you use a smart meter, so arrange to allow us to fit one by this date or your supply will be disconnected" would suffice. Which the minister notably didn't exclude from happening. Or perhaps the energy companies will introduce a non-smart-meter tariff, with the same monetary penalties that apply to non-direct-debit paying customers, and enforce compliance that way...

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Staff savings?

What is this meter reader thingy of which they speak, the laying-off of which will save money? I have an outside meter but I hadn't seen a human reader for several years before I switched to a web account. I reckon they've already sacked them, so what does that do to the calculations?

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Quite the reverse here

Both electricity/gas I put the readings in on-line, bill gets paid by DD, meterman turns up about a week later. Being going on for ~ 2/3 years

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Big Brother

Meter Readers

Oddly enough in the last year or so we seem to have seen a resurfacing of men coming around to read the meter. Admittedly the last twice has been at gone 8pm in the evening as a cold-call, and with the hassle of showing him where the meter was and moving my bike and other stuff to get to it I may as well have read the thing myself anyway, but they do still turn up.

Normally quite cheery chaps too, which is a little surprising given they've no doubt been told to **** off by several people already who think they're Jehovah's Witnesses or selling double-glazing.

What I also want to know is what about we people who already fell for previous cons like solar power and have import/export meters for what we sell back to the grid? Are these new things smart enough to know when we're chucking electrons back up the wire?

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New meter?

They sent the letters out about updating the meters for non-smart but newer meters about a year and a half ago. Then we had a letter saying they had run out of money and would get back to us. Not holding my breath.

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Anonymous Coward

As the article put, why should we all pay £340 to help the energy companies reduce staff and acquire realtime information about our private lifes? These companies are posting huge profits and raising prices whilst the wholesale gas price is dropping, yet they expect us to pick up the bill when they want to upgrade to improve their efficency. I don't want a smart meter unless there is no cost and a real world advantage to me, the consumer.

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Hurrah for OFGEM then....

If you do a bit of a search of the articles tagged with smart meter, you'll see that it all stems from OFGEM's acceptance of serial price increases that apparently would offset "investment costs" instead of telling them that the whole smart metering thing should be a fiscal no-brainer with a quick payback. (And if it ain't no fiscal no-brainer then why is it pushed so much?)

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I don't see how it can be legal to force someone to stump up such a large sum of money - for plenty of people that is a huge amount of disposable income - in order to help the utility companies increase their profits. Sure, you can write a law that says so but, as plenty of high court and EU court decisions have shown in other areas, that doesn't make it legal.

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Boffin

What makes you think that you will be asked to pay for the meter directly? Seems much more likely that they will just increase _everyone's_ overall price so that it doesn't even matter if you refuse the meter, as you will be paying for it anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Not compulsory !== No price increase

I remember when water meters started being forced onto people. If your property was already on water rates, you didn't have to switch. But if you moved house, a water meter had to be put in before the new people moved in.

I stayed on water rates because I wasn't born yesterday,

Since then, my water rates have increased by a factor of 3.75, and I get letters several times a year telling me that I COULD save a fortune if I switch to a meter, despite me calculating I'd end up spending about an extra £200/year.

The same thing will happen with smart meters. They may not be compulsory, but the power companies will find disincentives to drive people onto them. Cheaper tariffs exclusive to smart meters, reducing the standing charge, introducing administration or other frivolous fees for old meters, etc. And they'll force houses to have them installed when people move house.

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I think we are reaching a turning point with utility companies and pricing. Sure, they are all robbing bastards who will fleece a freezing dying pensioner for their last penny, but Governments will soon come to realise that they need to do something about rising living costs on several fronts:

1. Price rises are all about profits not costs

2. Successive Governments not addressing the dwindling disposable incomes of households have made them all less electable in the eyes of the voter

3. The consumer cannot start to spend to bring the World out of recession if they've got no fucking money.

Point 3 is becoming particularly poignant in that they want you to consume in order for businesses and the economy to thrive but all people have money for is taxes and bills. It started off as a debt induced problem but rising bills mean there is rapidly occurring cost of living poverty.

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Devil

No mention of the real smarts...

Will these smart meters have a facility to turn your supply off remotely - like if they need to load-shed 'cos the windmills aren't turning and all the proper power stations are in the scrapyard?

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I want one, but I want to own it

I'll cheerfully pay 350 quid for a device I own (i.e. Free firmware that I can at least examine, and ensure does not include a remote kill switch or other features that are not in my interests, and preferably also includes features to protect my privacy from leaking data).

I'm not wanting to be able to significantly twiddle with the readings, obviously, so they need a tamper-proof module that generates readings, along with a cryptographic checksum that allows them to confirm that I'm not tampering with that when I send readings in.

Having seen Ross Anderson ( http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/ ) talk about this subject, it seems inevitable that the way these meters are being funded will lead to them being cheap and nasty little security nightmares that will inevitably be abused, which could involve anything from theives looking for power usage patterns showing empty properties, up to hostile nations breaking the national grid by flicking the power in a few million homes off and on simultaneously.

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I'm afraid you're right in most of what you said. Two points I'd dispute are the cost and the attack mode. The most expensive accurate grid level meter would be pressed to reach the £300 mark.

As for the attack scenario, it's been foreseen already and in case of massive instabilities and fluctuations as described in your post the smart meters revert to "dumb" operation.

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"As for the attack scenario, it's been foreseen already and in case of massive instabilities and fluctuations as described in your post the smart meters revert to "dumb" operation."

Great, send your donations to Anonymous.

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FAIL

I have a variable frequency jammer which will jam these things with no trouble at all.

I will have them running round like fucking idiots trying to solve why mine (rented house so would imagine i have no say in whether we have one or not) wont respond....

Cockwombles.....

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Vic
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> I have a variable frequency jammer which will jam these things

That's unlikely.

ZigBee is a spread-spectrum technology, so it's fairly resilient to narrowband jamming. And because it's a mesh topology, each unit only really needs to be able to communicate with the next-door neighbour.

Vic.

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Who wants to bet...

It won't be compulsory, but those that install them get a discounted tariff... Sorry, I mean those that don't install them suddenly find there tariff rate increases, and the new cheaper one (the original tariff price) is only available to those that say yes to the meter.

I might say yes, just to see their reaction when they discover the mobile signal in the cupboard under my stairs... I have to put my mobile on a window ledge to get a signal, and even then it's hit and miss.

Even if it does get a signal, a remote switch off can be easily prevented by some strategic use of tinfoil (no not on your head you nut!).

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Anonymous Coward

Easier yet

The information below is purely academic hypothetical discussion and is likely be highly illegal and should NOT be done, I am in no way endorsing this course of action and would like to point out anyone doing so places themselves at risk of fire, death, prosecution and lower energy bills

In theory the following would sort things

Pair of Henley blocks, 2 100amp switches, some 25mm2 meter tails (cable) and some meter seals from Ebay

cut the seal on the cut out fuse and pull it

cut the seal on the meter and disconnect the incoming tails

connect the live and neutral incomer to a seperate henley block

then tails from the henley to a switch then to the meter and another set of tails to the other switch then to the fusebox

Reseal the meter, shove the cut out fuse back in and reseal. Job done

Then anytime they turn off your supply (or the numbers get a bit too high) flick off the metered supply and on with the unmetered supply, no power cut then (well unless they turn off the entire substation and thats not very likely given stuff like traffic lights, street lights and those with medical conditions (some of whom might die if their power was shut off) are fed off the same substation)

A/C as I don't really fancy a visit from the plod

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I am only writing as a warning

In theory this could work. However, all meters these days have in excess of 150 anti-tampering devices/schemes. (Btw, if you think this is radical, you should see what the Brazilians and Nigerians try).

To be more precise on this point: all smart meters come with their own internal battery specced for a week's operation with no grid power. Secondly, the terminal cover has a microswitch on top of the seal, and the opening event will register, power or no power. As soon as power is restored, the event is sent home, compared vs. known service jobs and within a day you get a visit from a technician.

Same with EMP's, strong magnets etc etc.

P.S. In Brazil the meters are placed high on the leccy poles and many tampering attempts have resulted in the poor punters getting fried. The big broo-ha-ha though was when an unlucky guy took the neighbourhood's power with him thereby making everyone miss a world cup match.

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We pay for them to regulate their business better?

@Turtle fan . You can bet the reason why the government didn’t stipulate an open API for meters was because the Electricity Companies didn’t want there to be one - I mean if you had an open api the customer could change to another cheaper supplier just like that.

The government doesn’t make these cockups on its own - the lobbying industry invests hugely to ensure they haven’t got a fucking clue.

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FAIL

Awesome

With these meters, the computer attack vector on power distribution just shifted from a single point to millions of locations. Remote killswitch, really?

With physical access to a device someone will be able to reverse the encryption. That's a given. This means personal details, like when you are at home, will be trivial to collect. Further, disruption to the network is a matter of when, not if.

So they default back to dumb mode in the event of an attack.. Riiight. this is predicated on the meter companies tech staff being more competent than a hacker, which is usually unlikely. Heck, the video game console manufacturers have been in an arms race for literally years, and I'm sure have thrown a LOT a money at the problem with no solution in sight.

I give it 2 years before the first real attacks surface. The power companies will claim that it's just a firmware problem or hardware failure at first. Before long it will be become apparent that they aren't in control.

If you want stability of a system ( water / power ) then manual processes are far better.

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Thumb Up

AFAIK the UK Utility companies have *no* meter readers already.

The work is outsourced to some 3rd party. It seems to be fairly seasonal work, like picking crops.

However the utility companies have to do it about *every* 2 years. Going to smart meters (provided the relevant laws are updated) means they can dump this annoyance *permanently*.

Thumbs up for this but it'll only *mean* something if the companies can't put a fast one with the deliberately expensive "manual" tariff.

A suggestion to Britards. Tell the regulator you don't want one and *why* and to your supplier tell them you don't one and why. Between the high costs, the (probably, but no one has had a check it) c**p security and the potentially abusive remote off switch I'd say there are enough

reasons to get both groups to "review" their planned policies.

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Anonymous Coward

Visits

Notes to the tards. . . .

Your supplier probably doesn't really want to fit a SMART meter in your property anyway. As far as we can tell they're going to cost us a royal fortune and take years to pay for themselves.

Someone will still have to visit your property at least every two years, unless the site safety check (or whatever it is called, it is a legal requirement anyway) can be done remotely. (Currently this is done by the meter reader when they visit)

The incompatible communications issue should go away once communication is through the DCC (Although the spec of the DCC has been cocked up badly in my view)

. . .

AC for fairly obvious reasons

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Thumb Down

Won't be compulsory, but...

... I bet that, like with Water Meters, once one is installed in a property it cannot (or will not) be removed.

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Anonymous Coward

and how long will it be before

1. someone hacks the network

2. comes up with some gadget that allows anyone to play havoc with any meters in range

3. sells a gadget (which won't be illegal) to slow down the meter to it gives false readings (which will be illegal but will never be found out as no one will do manual checks).

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Terminator

Quote from a supplier's T&Cs

Here's a quote from Ovo Energy's T&Cs.

"13.8A When you decide to have a smart meter installed you agree to pay the extra monthly charge that we will add to your account."

"13.8L If you want to have your smart meter removed in the future, you can ask us to do this for you. You will have to pay a one-off administration fee."

So just hope that you don't move into a house with one fitted, or it's "Lead or Silver" for you.

And Ovo are one of the fair providers: I dread to think that what the Big Six will do.

So the industry energy saves a packet on Meter Readers and the customers pay. Trebles all around!!!

Of course, there is the downside for the Big Six: one of them I worked for had a Balance Sheet entry for how much it had in its bank due to estimated readings: it was ten of millions...

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Anonymous Coward

Unsmart meter?

A fortnight ago, we had a supply failure. Probably around 150 houses. The failure took 6 hours to fix and knocked out 2 of my wallwarts. The first rendered the garage door opener inoperable due to a low output voltage, the second went high output voltage and destroyed one of our security cameras. A few days later. someone came round and asked if our electricity meter was still working! He was followed 7 days later by the meter reader, who seemed a bit early to me. The impression I formed was that some smart meters had bitten the dust due to the failure. As we have traditional meters without electronics, we had no problem. I understand that there may be a smart meter failure rate which is too high. Does anybody know?

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Devil

EMP'ed meters?

No, I don't mean a nuke attack.

I mean, will some crim work out that a bit of kit involving a large HV capacitor, a spark gap and an antenna might generate enough of an EMP to knock out a smart meter at point-blank range, leaving no evidence of why it died, and these scenarios:

1. It cuts off the power to the premises, whose owner then collects compensation, or

2. it doesn't cut off power, and the company has no way of knowing how much power has been used.

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My energy company send me a bill every 6 months stating that my account is in credit but that they are, for some reason, putting my direct debit payment up. I call them and tell them I'm not paying the higher rate as I'm in credit, there is usually an argument when they say reducing the dd would mean I was paying below consumption, I end up speaking to a manager and get the dd taken back down, then the next bill, comes and I'm still in credit and it all starts again. This has been going on for the last 2 years.

Moving supplier this time, but my point is that I don't trust the energy companies, especially the one I'm with. I believe they're either trying to take more money so it's sitting in their bank rather than mine and earning them interest, or they're incompetent. Probably a mixture of the two...

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