A smart meter campaign that uses TV stars, actors and models to promote the gadget is adding about £50million a year to energy bills.
Celebrities such as Ainsley Harriott, Maxine Peake and Twiggy have appeared in TV, radio and magazine adverts boasting of the benefits of new digital smart meters.
Under an upgrade scheme energy firms must offer a smart meter to every home and small business by 2020 or face fines – although households are not obliged to have one.
The new digital meters can automatically send readings to suppliers as often as every half an hour, putting an end to estimated bills.
Celebrities such as Twiggy in 2017 have posed with smart meters in adverts
Ainsley Harriott has featured in the adverts which have added an estimated £50million to energy bills
Customers can also see how much power they are using on a screen.
Smart Energy GB was set up by the Government in 2013 to encourage households to get a smart meter.
It claims it is an independent body but is funded by energy companies, which pass costs on to customers.
The Government initially estimated that a national awareness campaign would cost about £87million.
Now, industry insiders have told Money Mail that by the end of 2021 Smart Energy GB will have spent upwards of £220million. Its budget for this year is £48.4million.
The National Audit Office has warned that the group may need extra funding to take it beyond 2021 as the rollout is unlikely to be complete on time.
Last year Smart Energy GB spent £683,000 paying celebrities to be its spokesmen and feature in adverts.
But an industry source claimed the campaign group was not doing enough to boost the number of households actually installing meters.
He added that eyebrows had been raised over stunts such as arranging for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform ‘A Requiem for Meters’ on instruments made from old gas and electricity meters.
One advert featured TV cook Harriott preparing food for bodybuilders.
Twiggy, who was made a dame this week, has even taken part in a photoshoot posing among giant smart meters. Speaking in a YouTube video in 2017, she said: ‘When I was discovered in the 1960s it was an amazing time for the country economically and culturally... I’m here today to tell you about smart meters – another big change that affects every single household in Great Britain.’
Phil Spencer posed with a Smart Energy bus as part of the campaign encouraging the nation to install the gadget
Smart meters measure real time use of gas and electricity and give the details to the householder and their energy company via a system similar to the mobile phone network
Location, Location, Location presenting duo Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer also promoted the devices, as well as former Great British Bake Off contestant Ian Cumming.
Tory MP Grant Shapps said: ‘I cannot see how this unchecked spending could be considered a sensible or effective use of money.’ Consumer expert Martyn James said: ‘Expensive ad campaigns can go horribly off track if they don’t tackle the underlying problems. With smart meters, the problem is the public doesn’t believe they work.’
Smart meters have been beset by problems since their introduction. Customers may find their meter goes ‘dumb’ when they try to switch supplier.
Critics have also warned they give firms access to a ‘honeypot’ of private customer data.
This month, the advertising watchdog banned a Smart Energy GB ad featuring actress Miss Peake for misleading listeners about savings.
The Advertising Standards Authority said the advert had failed to make it clear that listeners had to change their energy use in order to save. Smart Energy GB said it was appealing the ruling.
Sacha Deshmukh, head of Smart Energy GB, said: ‘We are guided by the best practice in marketing and communications in designing and delivering our campaign. It is this that helps us create an effective, value for money and thoroughly evaluated campaign.’
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Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp have been advocates of smart meters
TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp: ‘My smart meter will be right up there with those things that I can’t imagine living without once I’ve spent enough time with it - a bit like Phil really.’ Smart Energy GB press release, June 2018
HER ‘LOCATION’ co-presenter Phil Spencer: ‘Choosing a smart meter over your current analogue one can save time, energy and money.’ Smart Energy GB press release, June 2018
TV COOK Ainsley Harriott: ‘Do your bit and request a smart meter. Just sign up and I’ll give you one! There’s no way I’m saying that. Can you imagine the memes? It’s not even right.’ YouTube video, October 2018
Actress Maxine Peake: ‘With a smart meter you get an expected average saving of 354 kilowatt hours. That might not mean much but if we all got one, we could save the same amount of energy as it takes to power Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle for a year.’ Banned radio advert, July 2018
Former Bake Off contestant Ian Cumming: ‘I’ve recently had a smart meter installed and it shows me how much energy I’m using and how much it’s costing. One of the first things I noticed is that the oven is really putting my energy costs up. It got me thinking about alternative ways of cooking that keep energy and costs down.’ YouTube, June 2016