By Alastair Jamieson
Smart meters could become a ‘spy in the home’ by allowing social workers and health authorities to monitor households, adding to concern at Britain’s surveillance society.
The devices, which the government plans to install in every home by 2020, will also tell energy firms what sort of appliances are being used, allowing companies to target customers who do not reduce their energy consumption.
Privacy campaigners have expressed horror at the proposals, which come as two million homes have ‘spy’ devices fitted to their rubbish bins by councils who record how much residents are recycling.
The government wants every home in Britain to have smart meters, which give users information on how to save energy and send real-time data direct to utility companies, eliminating the need for customers to stay at home for meter readings or to receive estimated bills.
The devices also pave the way for a national ‘smart grid’, backed by David Cameron’s Conservatives, which would use the data to manage national demand more efficiently and advise households when it is cheapest to switch on appliances.
In its impact assessment, however, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says there “is theoretically scope… for using the smart metering communications infrastructure to enable a variety of other services, such as monitoring of vulnerable householders by health authorities or social services departments.”
It adds: “Information from smart meters could also make it possible for a supplier to determine when electricity or gas was being used in a property and, to a degree, the types of technology that were being used within the property. This could be used to target energy efficiency advice and offers of measures, social programmes etc to householders.”
Doretta Cocks, founder of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection, said: “This is Orwellian. We’re already under surveillance for what we put outside the home in bins and now we could be watched for what we’re doing inside as well.
The DECC document adds households could even have their power to some appliances turned off remotely to help the national grid if there is too much demand. It says: “In terms of potentially intrusive non-physical behaviour unrelated to data, smart metering potentially offers scope for remote intervention such as dynamic demand management, which is designed to assist management of the network and thus security of supply. This could involve direct supplier or distribution company interface with equipment, such as refrigerators, within a property, overriding the control of the householder.”
Consumer Focus, the watchdog, has also expressed concern about the privacy implications of the meters, saying consumers are “at risk of unfair, excessive, inequitable and inefficient charging” because energy companies could use the new data to introduce more complex tariffs to maximise profits at peak times.
More than two million households in Britain have microchips in their council bin. Sensors and weighing equipment fitted to the back of each rubbish lorry allow the council to collect data as each bin is raised. Information collected from outside each household is downloaded to a database that allows officials to monitor how much waste each household is producing for waste and for recycling. Officials then use the data to target errant streets and households in a bid to increase recycling rates from 43 per cent to 60 per cent.
By David Derbyshire
£1,000 fine for putting any food scraps in the dustbin as ‘zero waste’ policy could lead up to five-bin headache
Householders could be fined £1,000 if they throw food scraps and potato peelings into the dustbin under a Government ‘zero waste’ policy.
They will be forced to sift through their rubbish for anything that can be recycled, reused, rotted or burnt for electricity.
The crackdown will create so much recyclable material that homes could be given five wheelie bins and waste boxes to cope.
The controversial zero waste policy – part of the Government’s drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions – will be unveiled tomorrow by Environment Minister Hilary Benn.
Ministers will discuss the issue with councils, businesses and waste experts.
Yesterday, Mr Benn said the Government would launch a consultation early next year into banning food, cans, paper and glass from landfill.
Homes that persistently break the rules by putting food waste in the ordinary dustbin could face fines of £1,000 or more.
‘One that we are going to consult on around the turn of the year is banning certain things from going into landfill,’ he told the Politics Show on BBC1.
But the plans were condemned by critics.
Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: ‘Voters are sceptical about recycling policy – particularly when they see recyclables being thrown on the same bins as landfill waste.
‘The fact that food waste could be banned from landfill – effectively treating it as a kind of toxic waste – is a recipe for disaster.’
Under the Government’s zero waste strategy, due to be phased in over the next few years, only items that have ‘absolutely no other use’ would be allowed to be buried.
Mr Benn also wants a crackdown on food packaging in shops. He will urge businesses to remove cellophane from vegetables and fruit and encourage people to bring jars to shops for top ups of coffee.
In the North London borough of Brent, householders face fines of up to £1,000 if they don’t recycle.
Householders are given a standard black dustbin for ordinary waste, a green compost bin for garden waste, vegetable peelings and cardboard and a green box for 12 types of recyclable.
A fourth bin will be needed for kitchen slops to generate renewable energy from methane.
Earlier this year, the Daily Mail highlighted how the rise of wheelie bins is blighting British streets and homes and fuelling arson attacks.
The Not in Our Front Yard campaign won the backing of English Heritage boss Simon Thurley, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the National Pensioners’ Convention.