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Smart Meters

Volume 609: debated on Thursday 12 May 2016

2. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that consumers’ data on smart meters are accessible to and controllable by those consumers; and how she plans to monitor the effectiveness of those steps. (904988)

I welcome the hon. Member’s support for smart meters, and I am sure she will agree that their roll-out is a vital step towards putting consumers firmly in control of their energy use. Consumers will need to have ready access to the data from their smart meters if we are to achieve that goal. That is why all households will be offered an in-home display that will allow them to see the energy they are using in near real time, as well as its cost. We are also allowing suppliers to trial innovative technologies alongside that.

Smart meters can transform domestic energy consumption and help to save the planet, but only if consumers are given secure control and ownership of their own data. The display options that the Secretary of State refers to will still allow smart meters to be a back door into our homes for hackers, so will she overcome her ridiculous complacency and announce measures to give consumers the digital rights that they deserve before it is too late?

The hon. Lady should know that privacy is absolutely protected and at the heart of the smart meter programme. She should be careful not to put fear into the hearts of people where none should exist. The data are protected, and they belong not to the Government—which some people might, not unreasonably, fear—but to the energy companies. We will always reassure consumers that privacy is at the core of delivering safe meters.

The Competition and Markets Authority has recommended a temporary safeguard for vulnerable users who have pre-payment meters, which could result in savings of up to £300 million a year for those consumers. Will the Secretary of State commit to implementing that measure as soon as possible to protect those vulnerable users?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The preliminary report from the Competition and Markets Authority addresses head-on the difficulties and higher costs often faced by people on pre-payment meters, and, yes, we will be implementing its recommendations. We look forward to seeing its final recommendations over the next few months.

According to the Government’s own calculations, they reckon that with smart meters installed. we as a nation could save some £17 billion on our collective energy bills over the next 15 years. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if consumers had access to their detailed data usage, it would put them in a good position to share those data with third parties, should they want to, and that that could improve competition, which the Government would obviously be glad to see?

Yes, the Government are glad that the Competition and Markets Authority has said that it will make available in a controlled way the details of people who have not switched. We will have to ensure that that is done in a way that does not result in consumers feeling overwhelmed by suggestions. The Competition and Markets Authority has yet to come up with its final solution on this point, but I am confident that it will do so in a measured way and that this will help to ensure that people who have not switched will have access to switching and to the opportunities that it provides.