Energy giants could use smart meters to cut switch off the power to their customers homes to force them to pay their bills, it has been revealed.

Suppliers have the capacity to switch the new digital devices to a pre-payment setting without visiting the house.

This would force the homeowner to top up their account before they use any gas or electricity – and if their balance runs out, their power could automatically be shut off.

Currently, energy providers need permission from the court before they can cut a person’s energy supply or force them to use pre-payment meters. However, this is not the case with smart meters.

More than 11 million smart meters have been installed across the country as part of a national upgrade programme ordered by the government.

The new meters automatically send readings to suppliers as often as every half an hour and show customers in pounds and pence exactly how much gas and electricity they use.

Experts have warned that this could give energy giants unprecedented power over customers.

Lily Green, of auto-switching service Look After My Bills, said in an interview with the Daily Mail: “Suppliers now have a frightening level of power to hit customers in the pocket. If they can switch someone to a pre-payment meter with a flick of a switch whenever they choose, this is very worrying for families across the country already struggling with unfair price rises.”

In the past, the Big Six have proven far too eager to force expensive pre-payment meters into people’s homes – despite Ofgem warnings that they should only ever be used as a last resort.

Other concerns are that customers could have their energy cut off even if their energy company makes a mistake over the bills, or if the amount owed is under dispute.

Smart meters have also been linked to an increase in electromagnetic energy and health concerns.

In fact the distrust over smart meters has grown to such an extent that even former energy minister Mike O’Brien who once championed the roll-out of smart meters has revealed that he has ripped his own ones out.

He said the former energy secretary Ed Miliband, made bad assumptions in designing the programme.

In an interview with the Telegraph he said: “They were wrong to think users would monitor their electricity and gas use and consume less as a result.”

“I had an early version, after a while I barely looked at it, didn’t use it. We got rid of it.” Mr O’Brien and other former ministers also slammed the decision to let the big six energy companies roll out the programme instead of distribution network operators. They said this mistake was caused by constant lobbying from power companies that the government caved into. Energy giants have also pressured customers into having a smart meter installed even if they didn’t want one.

Meters now stop working when a household changes supplier, and many don’t work in mobile phone blackspots as they use technology that relies on the signal.

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