A 94-year-old woman, who relies on a wheelchair and a daily home help, was left with a £4,000-plus bill after SSE installed a smart meter and left her previously functioning gas boiler out of action and irreparable.
In August Anita Grant, who lives alone, agreed to have the meter installed in her Harrow home.
But rather than the easy process promised in the advertisements, her son Neil says that the decision was set to cost her £3,840 for a new boiler plus £250 redecorating costs, after SSE first said it would fix it, but then denied any liability.
Only after the Observer got involved did SSE agree to cover the cost of the replacement boiler and the additional redecorating costs.
Experts say a smart meter installation should not affect a normally functioning boiler. But in recent years there have been a small but steady stream of people claiming “it happened to me, too”.
Neil, who had to fly in from Ireland to help his mother deal with the fall-out, says he has been astonished that SSE was prepared to leave their vulnerable customer without a working boiler.
“I kept telling her not to have the meter as there were no benefits, but she went ahead, anyway. She says that when the SSE engineer arrived he had a cursory look around the kitchen, expressed surprise at the boiler’s age, and, without any additional checks, proceeded to install it. When he’d finished, the boiler wouldn’t restart. It was old but working fine and, as far as I know, had never given any trouble.”
He says an SSE-appointed contractor, sent by the company to try and fix it, told him the Glow-Worm boiler was not compatible with the meter and should never have been installed. Two engineers declared it would have to be scrapped.
Since then, he has been battling to get SSE Energy Services, now a sub-brand of Ovo Energy, to restore a working boiler, spending hours on the phone and writing emails.
First SSE staff promised to put it right, he says, then slowly the story changed. “After two weeks of getting nowhere, I had to get the plumber to install a new one. I have emails from SSE promising to pay – but then they said they would pay £500 as a gesture of goodwill. The way my mother has been treated is appalling – I’m astonished,” he says.
SSE told the Observer it believes the meter installation was unrelated to the boiler’s failure, and the boiler would not have restarted had the supply been shut off for any reason.
However, after we questioned why it was leaving a 94-year-old, who receives pension credit, facing such a big bill, SSE had a change of heart.
It says: “A routine part of the smart meter installation is to turn the power off to keep the engineer safe. Unfortunately, Mrs Grant’s boiler didn’t restart when the power was turned back on. Although the boiler was over 35 years old, we have decided to replace it as a gesture of goodwill.”
The company has also now agreed to pay for her redecorating costs plus £250 compensation.
Meanwhile, the story will leave others with older boilers asking whether they should take the plunge and have a smart meter installed. Corgi Technical Services told Cash that a smart meter should not have any impact on a properly functioning boiler that can be restarted following a cut in the gas supply.
However, it’s clear that plenty of owners are experiencing problems. Some have reported the boiler would not restart, while others had experienced no hot water, or much cooler water.
Energy regulator Ofgem says all installers are required to carry out safety checks.
“If they identify an appliance as unsafe, they will inform the customer and may condemn the appliance. This has resulted in many potentially dangerous situations being identified. We expect suppliers to manage these situations in a way that ensures their broader obligations are met, particularly with respect to vulnerable consumers.”
In June, the smart meter rollout deadline was put back to June 2025 after repeated delays. Around a quarter of UK homes now have a functioning smart meter.