Say no to smart meters

The government’s money-saving, energy-tracking revolution has turned into another costly damp squib, says Ruth Jackson.

Smart energy meter
(Image credit: © Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The government's money-saving, energy-tracking revolution has turned into another costly damp squib.

They were hailed as a technological advance that would save us all money, eliminate billing errors and revolutionise the way we use energy in our homes. But so far, smart meters are proving to be anything but a smart decision.

More than 1.5 million smart meters installed in homes are not working properly, says Victoria Bischoff in the Daily Mail. The main problem is that many smart meters go dumb when you switch supplier, meaning they stop automatically sending meter readings. If this happens, you have to go back to supplying readings manually, as with a traditional meter.

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Around 940,000 smart meters are believed to have gone dumb, according to government figures. A further 640,000 have been installed in unoccupied new-build homes, or where the customer has switched to a small supplier who hasn't supplied data to the government.

This problem is meant to have stopped with the introduction of second-generation smart meters, but these versions only work if the meter is compatible with local communications networks. As a result, only 300 of the 20,000 meters that have been installed are in the north of England and Scotland, where there are problems with connectivity.

Even if you are lucky enough to have a smart meter that still works, you may not be saving as much money as you'd hoped. Earlier this year the government admitted that its pledge that a smart meter would save the average household £26 a year had been a massive overestimate. In fact, they are saving households less than half that, at just £11 a year. Given the fact that energy bills have risen to cover the £11bn cost of roll out, it's hard to see how a smart meter is saving any member of the public money.

Believers argue that smart meters are needed because they are "an essential foundation for much of the UK's energy future", says Adam Vaughan in the Guardian. The government is on a mission to get 50 million smart meters installed by 2020. But until the current problems are ironed out, the smart meter revolution is "at risk of being short-circuited".

Given that, it's worth being aware that smart meters aren't mandatory, even though many energy firms are pushing them hard. All providers will be required to offer them eventually, but you don't have to accept. You can also say no at first, and then change your mind at a later date.

Act now to avoid rising CGT rates

Today's historically low rates of capital-gains tax (CGT) look ripe for review as the government seeks extra sources of funding, says Harry Brennan in the Daily Telegraph. As a result, some financial advisers are telling clients to consider crystallising gains now, while rates remain low, or risk a bigger tax hit later if CGT rates are raised in line with income-tax rates.

Higher-rate taxpayers currently pay 28% CGT on residential property and 20% on other gains, while basic-rate taxpayers pay 18% or 10% respectively. You have to pay CGT on your overall capital gains above your annual tax-free allowance, which is known as your annual exempt amount. This is currently £11,700.

However, you may be able to reduce your CGT liability by sharing assets with a spouse or civil partner. Combining both your CGT allowances allows you to make gains of up to £23,400 a year tax-free. If your partner has a lower tax rate than you, it may be worth transferring more assets into their name to benefit from the lower CGT rate they will pay.

Another possibility is to stagger large disposals over several years. This lets you use your allowance in multiple years, reducing your cumulative tax bill.

Pocket money... fraudsters target university students

As students return to university, thousands of them will be at risk of getting caught up in bank-transfer frauds, says Sam Meadows in the Daily Telegraph. Last year there were 8,652 cases of people aged 18-24 acting as "money mules", which involves allowing their bank accounts to be used by fraudsters to launder stolen money, according to data from Cifas, the fraud database.

Recruiters for the fraudsters regularly take to social media at the start of university terms to search for potential money mules, and often use fake job advertisements in order to lure people in. Students are often targeted because part of the offer is that they can keep a portion of the funds in return for transferring the cash on. Anyone caught acting as a money mule will face problems getting credit in future. At worst, they could receive a prison sentence.

Parents can earn 3.5% interest on their children's savings due to Nationwide's new Future Saver account. It offers the top rate to parents who have their main current account with the building society, says the Sunday Times, with a rate of 2.5% for others. You can deposit up to £5,000 a year, with little withdrawal allowed every year. The account arrives as Nationwide closes its junior individual savings account, which paid 3.25%, to new customers.

Music fans are being given the chance to invest in the back catalogue of Dire Straits (lead singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler). A new investment scheme allows you to buy a share of the royalties that are paid out every time one of the rock band's songs or albums is bought, downloaded, streamed or played on the radio. The venture from US firm Royalty Exchange proves that "classic songs are not only the soundtrack to people's lives they are also a potentially lucrative asset class' that can be packaged up and sold off to wealthy investors", says Rupert Jones in the Guardian.

The portion of the Dire Straits back catalogue that is up for sale earned $296,000 (£225,000) in the past 12 months, according to Royalty Exchange. However, only those with deep pockets need apply. To be eligible for the scheme, you must have either over $1m of investable assets aside from your main house, or an annual income of at least $200,000.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.