The government's plan to roll-out electricity and gas smart meters across the country has hit a snag, as a crucial IT project at the core of the programme faces further delays.
The system, which automatically sends meter readings to energy suppliers, was due to be switched on for the first time on Wednesday (17 August) but will now not be ready until the end of September at the earliest, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said.
It is yet another blow for the system, the introduction of which has already been postponed twice amid a host of technical issues.
The IT project was due to be fully operational in 2015, only for its launch to be postponed until April this year, and then for a further four months until August.
"The new infrastructure is planned to go live at the end of September, it is currently being tested to deliver a long-lasting, world class system to bill payers," a BEIS spokesman said.
According to government's plans, every household and business in the UK will be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020. However, that requires installing 53 million meters across 30 million properties over the next four years, as only 3.6 million meters have been fitted so far.
Despite the latest delay, the government is understood to remain confident of meeting its target, although the setback is expected to cause a problem for households wanting to switch to a cheaper supplier as they will lose the smart functionality should they switch.
A spokesman for the Data and Communications Company, a new body set up specifically to deal with all the information recorded by smart meters, said the cause for delay remained unclear. "As indicated by the department, the timetable for the roll-out of the new infrastructure will allow for testing of the system to ensure that it will deliver a long-lasting and effective system," he added.