Thousands of Scots households are under threat from higher energy prices amounting to hundreds of pounds a year in the cost of living crisis because of the switch off of a BBC radio service and a failure to meet targets for the roll out of smart meters.

Concerns surround the 250,000 electricity teleswitch meters fitted across Scotland which allows suppliers to turn large numbers of households to budget energy tariffs.

The Radio Teleswitching Service (RTS) enables electricity suppliers to switch meters between different energy tariffs such as Economy 7 or Economy 10 and helps deliver specific savings for customers who use electricity for their heating and hot-water provision.

But the BBC radio service that supports RTS meters is due to be switched off at the end of March, 2024 as plans to roll out smart meters across Scotland that allows existing heating and hot water to work without needing to use the radio signal falters.

Energy Action Scotland says that thousands particularly in the Highlands and Islands could be hit hardest by the switch off with annual bills going up by typically by as much as between £400 and £500 if action is not taken to stop those using RTS from losing out.

READ MORE: Energy bill 'rip off' concerns as Scots fuel poverty soars by 40%

The issue has become more problematic because Scotland is at the centre of geographical divide controversy over the installation of smart meters which is leaving some parts of the nation with just 7% coverage.

Former justice secretary now East Lothian MP and Alba Party deputy leader Kenny MacAskill along with Energy Action Scotland chief executive Frazer Scott are due to meet UK energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan to demand that people are not affected by the changes.

The Herald: Kenny MacAskill

They say that a delay to the RTS switch off is essential and that the roll out of smart meters has to be sped up.

Mr MacAskill said: "It’s another threat to the coldest and poorest areas of Scotland.

"The poorest in Scotland and those living in rural areas face yet again being hit the hardest if they are not on a smart meter by the current switch off date, left potentially stuck on a high tariff which they cannot afford."

The fair energy prices campaigner said that even if there is a delay in the switch off till the end of the year the roll out of smart meters will not have caught up.

While it has emerged that as of March some 55% of all domestic electricity meters operated by large energy suppliers were 'smart' across the UK - Scotland had just 43% coverage.

Four of the five local authority areas of 370 across Britain with the lowest coverage of smart meters are all in Scotland, and were among the areas of the country with the highest levels of fuel poverty.

Shetland Isles has 7% coverage, the Western Isles council area of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Orkney Islands was at 9% and Argyll and Bute was at 20%. Only the Isles of Scilly has a lower coverage at 5%.

According to latest Department for Energy Security data just four of Scotland's 32 local authority areas have smart meter coverage of over 50% - West Lothian (51%), North Lanarkshire (51%), Midlothian (52%) and East Ayrshire (54%).

An analysis from February 2022 showed that levels of fuel poverty in Scotland range from 19% in East Renfrewshire, 26% in West Lothian and 27% in Midlothian to 57% in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 47% in Highland and 46% in Argyll and Bute.

Fuel poverty relates to households that must spend a high proportion of their household income to keep their home at a reasonable temperature. It is affected by three key factors - a household’s income, their fuel costs, and their energy consumption, which in turn is affected by the energy efficiency of the home.

The Herald: Over 24,000 children in Fife are receiving the Scottish Child Payment.

It is defined in Scotland, that after housing costs, the total fuel costs needed to maintain a satisfactory heating regime are more than 10% of the household’s total taxable income.

Suppliers were expected to replace all traditional meters with smart ones by the end of 2025.

The current target is already a watered-down ambition from the original plan to fit a smart meter in every home in the country by 2020. That target was scrapped in 2019 when the UK Government realised there was no chance of it being met.

At that point the target was extended to 2024, but after Covid caused further delays another year was added to the deadline.

Smart meters are expected to cut a total of £250-a-year on average from dual-fuel bills between 2013 and 2034, according to government figures. These savings will come mainly from energy suppliers receiving fewer customer enquiries and making fewer home visits, and, in principle, should pass on these savings to customers.

Mr MacAskill says concerns are compounded in some remote rural areas of Scotland which may not have the signal strength required for a smart meter to communicate with the communications hub.

Nevertheless, he and Mr Scott say that the RTS switch-off date must be postponed and that the smart meter roll out needs to be accelerated.

Video: What is Economy 7?

"Customers dependent on RTS must be guaranteed that they will not face a higher tariff if no smart meter has been installed," said Mr MacAskill.

"Any technological impediments faced by smart meters in rural areas must be overcome to ensure that all households no matter how remote can access low tariffs."

Mr Scott said those hit by the switch off could find an extra 10% onto their bills and said the higher costs would be "extremely unfair".

He added: "There should be no detriment."

The BBC has had a long-standing relationship with the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) to transmit Radio tele-switching data on 198kHz alongside the BBC Radio 4 Longwave signal.

However, the BBC announced in 2011 that the equipment used to transmit the longwave radio signals from its station in Droitwich could no longer satisfactorily maintained and would be not be replaced.

Energy suppliers use it to switch electricity meters between different tariff rates at different times of the day. For example, this could be to send start and stop times to Economy 7, Economy 10, and storage heaters.

Several extensions of deadlines for a phasing out of radio teleswitching have been negotiated between the Energy Networks Association and the BBC from 2019 onwards, due to the lack of progress in developing suitable smart meter alternatives.

The number of homes reliant on this signal was expected to reduce as the roll-out of smart meters progressed.

The UK government announced in 2008 that energy suppliers would be responsible for fitting smart meters.

Now it is estimated some 32m of the more than 57m meters in UK homes and small businesses are smart devices.

The government initially estimated it would cost £13.5bn for energy suppliers and companies to roll out smart meters between 2013 and 2034 while they would recover their costs through customer energy bills and deliver £19.5bn in benefits. The estimates were made with 2011 prices and do not account for recent high inflation. The National Audit Office believes both figures are out of date.

Like traditional gas and electricity meters, smart meters measure the energy use of your household.

The main difference between them and traditional energy meters is that they automatically send energy usage information over wireless networks - similar to mobile phone networks - to the supplier.

They are replacing analogue energy meters across the country and come with an in-home display which shows energy usage in pounds and pence, in near real-time.

They help to control energy use, by showing exactly what is being spent with no more estimated bills or supplying meter readings.

It will remove the costs of meter readings, which are currently added to bills.

The trade association Energy UK said they believed that part of the reason smart meters are not installed in some areas of the UK is because of weaker radio or mobile signals.

The UK Government says the new meters enables those on older prepayment meters to top-up remotely without leaving home.

They describe the replacement of traditional gas and electricity meters as an essential national infrastructure upgrade that would help make the country’s energy system “cheaper, cleaner and more reliable”.

Amanda Solloway, parliamentary under-secretary of state for energy consumers and affordability has indicated that discussions were underway to try to extend the ongoing operation of RTS into 2025.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesman said: “We expect energy suppliers in Scotland to upgrade people to smart meters as soon as possible and we’ve set them realistic targets to do so.

“Smart meters are the natural upgrade for consumers using the Radio Teleswitching Service (RTS) and the smart meter rollout is making good progress across Great Britain, with more than 33 million in homes and small businesses, helping people save money on bills.

“Energy suppliers are contacting their RTS customers to arrange smart metering upgrades, but to benefit from smart meters at the earliest opportunity, we also advise households to contact suppliers as soon as possible to book their installation.”