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This week on Which? Conversation

Here’s what’s coming up this week: 5 July 2021.

Welcome to the first of our series of weekly roundups! 

Each week we’ll recap the week that was (starting next week) and the week that will be here on Which? Conversation, including key comments and contributions, your ideas, and what’s coming in the weeks to follow.  

We’ll also aim to keep you updated in the comments on what’s new around Which?, including the latest consumer news, updated guides, and areas we’re looking to hear more of your experiences and opinions. 

 As this is our first roundup, here’s how these these will work:

  • Comments on each roundup will only be open for that week (Monday – Sunday).
  • We’ll close comments when the next roundup is posted, and signpost you to the latest conversation.

What’s happening this week

We hope you’ll join in our live scams Q&A on Thursday at 2pm. We’re welcoming Which? experts to the table to answer your questions about scams. Feel free to pop your questions in the comments, and drop by the comments on or after 2pm this Thursday to take part in the discussion. 

Other discussions we’ll be starting this week:

This schedule may change, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated in the comments on this post.

Question of the week

Inspired by a conversation with the folks over at Which? Switch, this week’s question is about your utility bills:

Which of these best describes how you organise your utility bills?
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We’d love to hear more about your preference. Do you feel you get a better deal with a package or by organising your bills separately? Is the convenience of having all your bills in one worth paying more for?

Let’s talk in the comments.

What’s going on for you this week?

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12/7/2021 – Update

Thanks for taking part this week. We’ve turned off comments on this post, so let’s continue the conversation on this week’s post.

Comments

With these massive hacking and ransomware attacks crippling industry and infrastructure and with the inability to do anything but react when an attack is made, how soon will it be before the internet is broken and we lesser mortals have to find a new way to communicate and shop?

Four weekly phone calls later I have finally received a paper statement from my bank. Is it really antediluvian to refuse to bank on line?

My utility billing does not really conform to any of the options in the poll.

I have no choice over water so I deal with that directly with the monopoly supplier for our area.

I deal with energy as a bundle because there are dual-fuel advantages.

The same applies to telecom and broadband services but I keep them separate from energy.

I use the same insurer for house and contents cover but the car is dealt with separately and might, or might not, be with the same company.

It looks like, in the future, we shall have little choice over which train company we use for rail journeys; it will all, and only, be Great British Railways. I anticipate the lowest common denominator will prevail whereas for many destinations we currently have a choice of operator for some or all of the journey.

I have a two year online dual fuel contract for gas and electricity and the this ends in October. I can change my direct debit or make a one-off additional payment, so I am in control. Previous energy suppliers pushed up my direct debits, even when I was well in credit, so unless it will be significantly more expensive to stay with my present supplier they will probably keep this customer. If not, I will look at the advice provided by Which? with a preference for UK-owned companies.

My broadband and landline phone are with one supplier but the SIM-only mobile phone contract is with a separate company. I had wondered about going for a broadband/landline/mobile contract but my mobile supplier doubled my data allowance and slightly reduced the monthly payment. I don’t subscribe to any entertainment services.

I don’t have a choice of water companies but am happy with the supplier.

I have home insurance and car insurance with the same company, which has a very conveniently sited local office. They don’t seem to hike prices for annual renewal and I was pleased to see that the cost of car insurance was significantly lower this year. My car insurance includes breakdown cover for a small additional premium.

I recently bought a new phone when the old one finally collapsed. I took this opportunity to change suppliers too and now have an eighteen month contract to supply mobile internet, phone calls and texts in a single package instead of the old pay-as-you-go Sim. The change over was easy and mostly done for me. My new Sim has the same number as the old one. I now have internet on a mobile phone I can use without incurring huge charges per 50Mb. I can tether this to the laptop on the boat, but there is some argument between Android and Windows when the two are connected and they are not easy bed-fellows. The mobile signal on the boat is scarcely better than the computer Wifi, which comes and goes.
My internet provider at home has been with me for a decade or more, and I have no reason to change.
I pay a monthly fee of £11 20 (currently) for as much internet as I want and e. mail as well.

My insurance is done through a broker who is also a local estate agent. Despite the £20 commission fee, the broker searches and finds suitable policies that give adequate cover at a good price. All my insurance is dealt with through them. My choir account also uses them for public liability. When I took over treasurership the public liability insurance was costing about £460 a year. My broker finds a policy, giving good cover for £168 this year. It has gone up £8 in the last few years.
I changed utility company for a dual fuel deal about five years ago. I was with British Gas and the national electricity company (I forget the actual name ) which I had been for decades. I used Which? to help me with this. My original (new) company has been taken over but I still have a fairly good deal, such that I don’t feel tempted to change again. I have an eighteen month contract with them with a fixed tariff and adjustable monthly payments according to use.
Water is supplied by one company and I have no choice over who sends it down the pipe.

It is high time we could choose who we buy our water from. Most energy suppliers do not produce energy, just buy and resell; the same could happen with water (and drainage) couldn’t it? We need some national coordination. It is a significant cost, in my case over £400 a year. I choose to pay a fixed amount rather than be metered, then I do not have to decide whether I can afford to water all my plants or not. Disgraceful attitude.

Once a year I use USwitch (and Which? Switch) to see who the best compromise energy supplier is – price vs. likelihood of remaining in business. It doesn’t bother me if they are a large foreign owned company or not, or an established small one as long as I get a good deal. Another disgrace. The rates can change quite dramatically from one year to the next; last year I was with SP and no problems, but this year they were uncompetitive and, slightly apprehensively, chose Avro who were £300 cheaper, among the lowest on offer. So far, so good.

I have stayed with my car insurers primarily because they are reputable and the prices have not changed greatly ( one came down). Another is with a broker who, like Vynor’s, checks the market each year and recommends one or two. This year they got 20% off last year’s. Their fee is modest.

I try to stay with the same house insurer, again a reputable name, and their renewal has never been a nasty shock, at least not since abandoning John Lewis who put the premium up about 25% one year. I find unlimited buildings and contents cover attractive; it saves having to estimate all your possessions to avoid the possibility of a claim not being met in full.

My broadband and phone provider is JLP. I would be very reluctant to change partly because I have had good service over many years but mainly because my email is with them and changing would be a real hassle. However, each time the 18 month contract renews I have, so far, negotiated down to the same price a new customer would pay.

None of this takes much time to administer; an hour or two on the internet, and an odd phone call, once a year. But can save a good deal by getting a good deal.

I am not too bothered about the lack of competition in water supply. I suppose there is the possibility that an alternative supplier could source, treat and store water at a lower cost and feed it into a water grid at one end for the customer to draw out at the other. I don’t know whether the distinct differences in the character of water supplies according to sources and geology would make much difference – presumably an element of blending would take place if there was a nationwide grid.

The water industry seems to be well regulated by Ofwat with a keen eye kept on standards, costs and prices, and the proliferation of boards, committees that was common under the nationalised industry regime is no longer there. It would no doubt be necessary to isolate the basic water supply function from the environmental, flood prevention, and water courses and beach quality functions and that could give rise to additional administration.

”Since April 2017, businesses and certain commercial properties in England and Scotland can choose to switch water supplier. Currently, domestic customers are not able to change water supplier……..
How Much Could You Save By Switching Water Supplier?
The exact amount your business could save by switching water providers will depend on your usage, location, and size. As business water companies can offer very different rates, savings can also vary between businesses.
For example, a water meter recording business usage at 200m3 could be facing bills between £500 and £1,000 depending on their current supplier….

If competition works in the business sector it should also work for the domestic consumer.

Possibly so. It would be interesting to run a trial. I have no objection in principle to allowing freedom of choice but would need convincing it would be more economical and no less safe.

Businesses that are heavy consumers of water might have their own boreholes or be able to negotiate special prices with their local water companies.

John – There might not be a nationwide water grid but water is certainly moved around the country, so hosepipe bans have become less common. When I moved to the area in 1980 my water was extremely hard but over the past 30 years it has been blended with an increasing proportion of (soft) river water.

An increasing number of customers have metered water, either because this is compulsory or because they have opted for a meter to save money. This can significantly decrease use.

While writing in this thread I have received an e-mail message from Anglian Water about our water consumption.

It is gratifying to see that we are relatively low users in comparison with similar households, being roughly in the middle of the top 20% of the most efficient homes. It tends to fluctuate depending on the weather and the needs of the garden. It also bears some relationship to our absences on holiday so it was interesting that even during the sixteen months of lockdown our use of water has continued to go down each year.

Em says:
6 July 2021

I have to add my dissent on dual-fuel discounts. I have no option of a discount on my energy, because there is no gas available in this village. So not only do I have to pay more to heat my house using green electricity, I pay even more for the priviledge of not having polluting gas, so that these discounts can be offered to those that do.

Now that gas is to be phased out, it is time to end this unwarranted discount. Those with a gas supply pay full price. Those with electricity pay full price.

It’s been going on for 30 years and I’ve paid more than my fair share. End of story. Sorry.

Em – Have you considered LPG?

A lot of homes in villages in Norfolk and Suffolk without mains gas use it for heating and cooking believing that it is more economical than electricity. I don’t know, but it seems to be a popular choice.

When demand for gas drops, do you think the retail unit price will fall in real terms or be artificially kept at present levels?

I think it is inevitable that the retail price of electricity will rise in real terms as demand increases and the average cost of production rises. Renewable energy is notionally free of charge but the infrastructure and distribution has to be paid for.

I presume any real discount will reflect the reduced admin cost if you buy the two fuels on the same contract from one supplier. However not all dual fuel offers are the best way of buying energy. It is worthwhile, in the annual check, to look at duel fuels and also buying electr8city and gas from separate suppliers.

An unwarranted “discount” is when a fixed term contract is significantly cheaper than a standard variable traffic. Subsidising them is not the right thing to do. Nor is giving comparison websites better deals than the supplier offers direct to it customers.

Em says:
6 July 2021

I’ve considered LPG in the past, but couldn’t make the sums work, nor am I happy with burning more fossil fuels, both the LPG itself and the fuel oils used to transport and deliver it. I think I am better off investing in heat pumps (as I have done) and solar energy – when the cost of panels and storage batteries falls enough to provide a return on investment. Otherwise, I’ll use someone else’s green energy.

As to the reduced admin cost of dual fuels … . How is it more profitable for a supplier to sell me two fuels – gas for £500 and electricity for £1000, than to sell me electricity only for £2,000?

“…look at duel fuels..” Does that mean a battle for a discount?

I can understand the views of Em and others who do not have access to mains gas. At present, it’s up to companies to decide what prices they offer and discounts for dual fuel accounts. Likewise, a standing tariff does not represent the fixed costs of supplying gas or electricity, just a pricing structure.

My family, living in the highlands of Scotland, uses oil for heating and since there is no national price for heating oil it costs significantly more than friends pay in a rural part of England. The best they can do is to buy large loads.

We are all dependent upon the provision and maintenance of the supply network, the administration costs associated with our accounts, the provision of meters etc, so it seems quite reasonable to me that we should all contribute to those fixed costs. Otherwise a very low user would be subsidised by higher users if these costs were put into unit charges. The standing charge make up should, however, be transparent.

However, when I, presumably like most others, decide who to buy my energy from I am only concerned with my total likely annual cost, found by putting in my estimated annual energy usage . The result includes unit charges and any standing charge, but that make up rarely concerns me.

Sorry, should have said “duel fuals”…. the letters are wearing off my keys.

when the banks get into to trouble, WE PAY; when we get into trouble e.g transfer scams WE STILL PAY!