Smart Meters: Dominic Littlewood offers advice to reduce bills

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A mother of two living in Leicestershire was hit with a staggering £27,000 energy bill incorrectly estimated by Bulb, which connected to her smart meter remotely.  Paula Coplin, 42, who has two children aged 17 and 10, was beside herself when the eye-watering charge from by Bulb energy came trough her door. The Leicestershire mum, who is also a deputy head teacher, said she made the shocking discovery after trying to claim the £1,000 in credit she had built up. She was told she could not get her hands on that money as she still owed her supplier “more than £26,000”.

This left her in an agonising back and forth with Bulb, the supplier bought up by Octopus energy in October last year after going bust. 

Ms Coplin told Leicestershire Live: “I was trying to claim back my £1,000 in credit I had with the company – getting in touch via calling and using online chat to try and get an answer. 

“They told me they couldn’t for two reasons – one was the fact that they had estimated my gas meter since the pandemic because it had broken, and the second reason was that I owed them more than £26,000.

“This was the first I’d heard of it as it wasn’t loading up on my end, so the customer service staff sent me a copy of the bill to my email for me to look over, and I was stunned to see they had suggested I had used £27,000 in energy since my last bill.

Ms Coplin then took to make an official complaint to the company.  Two weeks to later, Bulb confirmed that they had in fact made a mistake.

This came after Bulb remotely connected to Ms Coplin’s smart meter in September 2022, incorrectly estimating that she used 100,000kWh worth of electricity. That is the equivalent amount of energy that a small business might use. 

Ms Coplin said her “energy bill would be more than what I’d pay over ten years.”

Following Octopus Energy’s acquisition of Bulb, the new owners have stressed that there won’t be a horror repeat of this scenario. 

An Octopus Energy spokesperson said: “The incorrect electricity billing happened when Bulb remotely connected Ms Coplin’s electricity meter to the smart network in September 2022 following a period where they hadn’t received readings from her electricity meter for several months. Bulb did this so they could get regular readings from Ms Coplin’s meter and keep her bills up-to-date.

“Unfortunately, a system error occurred in which it looked like Paula had used a lot more energy than she actually had (~100,000kWh worth) and this resulted in a large incorrect bill on her account for just over £27,000. This error was quickly rectified and the incorrect estimated readings were removed by Bulb.”

The company added the incident had been “all sorted back in November 2022.”

The spokesperson added that the meter has not been changed or replaced and is managed by British Gas. Octopus said it is aiming to get the meter transferred within a two-week period. has previously reported on how vulnerable customers get switched onto more expensive payment plans remotely by their suppliers, who can take control of their smart meters. 

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Energy industry regulator Ofgem has warned that this can be done at a moment’s notice and at the simple switch of a button. 

Neil Lawrence, director of retail at Ofgem, said back in November: “Smart meter pre-payment switches are on the increase, and we do monitor that data.

“This should only be when it’s safe and practical to do so, and smart meters should not be switched without those appropriate assessments taking place, including identifying vulnerability. Ofgem has written to all suppliers to urgently remind them of their obligations. Where they fail to do so, we will take action against them.”

Fuel poverty charities have repeatedly called for the regulator to ban the switching of smart meter customers remotely to prepayment meter plans. 

Customers paying bills via this option must top up their meter with credit on a pay-as-you-go basis and can be left in cold, damp homes when they rack up debt. Over the last few weeks, damning exposés have revealed how major energy companies (British Gas) sent debt agents to vulnerable people’s homes to have prepayment meters forcibly installed. 

Now, Ofgem has said the ban on the temporary ban on forced installation of prepayment meters will last just six more weeks to March 31. 

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