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Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil sparked a media and regulatory frenzy with a proposal to solve the meter installation crisis affecting new homes occupation in the islands.

Mr MacNeil today (Wednesday 3 August) suggested that householders who have been waiting for months to get a meter installed, which would then allow them to switch on the power and move into their new homes, should simply get the power connected from the supply line to the fuse box themselves.

Speaking to today, Mr MacNeil said: “I am not proposing that everyone should get in there with a screwdriver and start doing their own connection work – as Ofgem and some media have claimed.

“My suggestion is that Ofgem should allow people to get electricity installed to their homes by reputable electricians and not to have to wait for meter installation, which is being delayed simply because the suppliers do not have engineers to install meters.”

Mr MacNeil was speaking after politicians in Orkney raised the issue of meter connection, which they said was delaying occupation of sorely needed new housing in the islands.

Homeowners in Harris and Lewis have echoed the Orkney experience, voicing their frustration as new homes remain empty, with power supplies laid to the property, but with no connection service for the meter which would allow them to switch on the power.

Mr MacNeil’s current intervention follows a series of communications between himself, energy supplier OVO and energy regulating body Ofgem since the beginning of the year.

OVO now owns SSE Energy Services, which formerly had a monopoly on the infrastructure supply in the Outer Hebrides.

In January Mr MacNeil wrote to OVO’s senior public affairs executive, saying: “I have been informed that OVO Energy is planning to remove the metering engineers in Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides and move to a skeleton crew of four where 13 used to work…

“I am very concerned about your capacity to install and maintain …meters in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and particularly in the Outer Hebrides.”

In OVO’s response that month their spokesperson said: “Recently, we have announced some proposed changes to OVO to enable us to better serve our customers by reducing complexity and making better use of our resources. These changes will include changes to our metering teams.

“We are in the early stages of appointing a third party to complete emergency and maintenance metering work for those of our members on supply with SSE Energy Services.
“We will work very closely with the appointed third party to ensure that they serve members in remote locations, including your constituency.
“While there will be fewer engineers, we'll support those customers who would like a smart meter install and keep our engineers productive by grouping appointments together.”

In February, Ofgem also responded directly to Mr MacNeil, saying: “I would like to thank you for bringing this issue to our attention and I can assure you it will be included in our ongoing monitoring activities. I can also confirm that this issue has been brought to the attention of Ofgem’s account manager for this supplier.”

In an updated response to Mr MacNeil in July, Ofgem explained their conditions of ‘duty to supply’, which apply to all energy suppliers.

They said: “Suppliers must offer to supply a domestic household once approached by a customer, including where this necessitates the installation of a meter to enable supply. We have been clear about our expectations in this area.

But in reality, Mr MacNeil said: “Suppliers are not able to install meters because they have cut their workforce to the bone and there are no longer meter installers based in the islands.

“A meter is only installed as a means of measuring the electricity being used by the customer. If the customer has asked for the meter, and if suppliers are not putting meters in, then customers should be getting free electricity in the meantime.

“I am sure the meter will be along pretty quickly when they find out that people are getting their supply for nothing.”

An Ofgem spokesperson said: “"Protecting consumers is our top priority and under no circumstances should consumers attempt to connect electricity meters themselves. This is dangerous, is considered energy theft, and is against the law.

“We would urge any consumer who is worried about their electricity connection to contact local suppliers, as suppliers are obligated under our robust rules to connect a home following a consumer request. We will be meeting with MPs shortly to address this issue."

Providing background to the current situation regarding meter installation, the Ofgem spokesperson said: “Individual energy suppliers are responsible for ensuring appropriate metering arrangements are in place for their customers and ensuring their customers meters are certified and in proper working order.

“Recruiting and deciding where and how to deploy engineers are commercial and technical decisions suppliers must make themselves.”

Last week Orkney politicians Alistair Carmichael MP and Liam McArthur MSP said that the refusal of energy suppliers to install meters in new build homes was due, in part, to uncertainty and volatility in the energy market.

Householders in Harris described how they had waited in some cases over a year for meters to be installed, with installation companies saying they could not visit the islands until they had enough work to justify the trip. (Read the full story here

Alistair Carmichael MP said: "This is a textbook example of market failure which demands action. The regulator and the government must step in – and step in now, before the coming winter period. Much-needed housing is there to be used – it is only the supplier standing in the way.

“It is entirely ridiculous that vital new housing should sit vacant simply because energy suppliers are refusing en masse to service them. If it is allowed to stand then it could restrict opportunities – and indeed basic living needs – in the isles and elsewhere for years to come.”