/ Home & Energy

Join the Big Switch and prove that people power works

Lots of hands joining together

We’ve joined forces with others on our latest campaign to get people a fairer deal on their energy bills. Here, TV reporter Jonathan Maitland explains why he’s involved in the Big Switch – and how you can be too.

I’m a television reporter. It’s a great job but there are downsides. For one, it gets repetitive.

One story that keeps coming back is energy bills. For nearly a quarter of a century I have covered the same theme: people are struggling to pay their bills and the tariffs are too numerous and complex.

In 2010, after my 23rd attempt at the story, I decided to stop singing the same old song and write a new one. Why report rather helplessly from the outside when, as a (reasonably) influential media practitioner, I could actually try and do something about it?

My idea was simple and, I modestly thought, brilliant. Why not get everyone (i.e. millions of us) together, and bargain collectively with the energy companies for lower bills? After all, it’s what the internet was made for.

The different arms of the Big Switch

I went to see Which? and hey presto, I realised I wasn’t so brilliant after all – they had been thinking of much the same thing. So we decided to work together.

They also suggested I see the people from 38 Degrees, a new-fangled social lobbying people power website thing, whose members number – amazingly – one million. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of them. But then I am 50 – and way more out of touch than I had realised.

38 Degrees, it turns out, were like minded. I was pushing at a door that was already half way open. Encouragingly, the people I was pushing with were just the sort you want when the door gets a little stiff.

Which?, you won’t need me to tell you, is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country and 38 Degrees, despite being the new kid on the block, already has notable successes. Last year, in the space of just a week, they got the government to reverse its policy of selling off our woodlands.

Why you should sign up to the Big Switch

So here we are – a combo of old and young, new and old media, attempting to do something rather exciting. We want to take back some of the power that is rightfully ours, and pay less for our energy. Which begs the question: how come we are paying so much in the first place?

For a start, energy as a raw material is more expensive. We can’t blame the energy companies for that. But there is something else. Once, energy companies were run for the benefit of the customers – us. They may have been unwieldy and inefficient, but they were ours.

Not any more. These days, they are not run for our benefit, but for the shareholders’. Their raison d’être is to make people rich, hence the six billion annual profits made by British Gas and its parent company.

It’s not illegal to generate that kind of wealth, of course, but it does seem a little excessive when some of us are freezing to death because of worries over heating bills. The time has come to do something: so please sign up. Now.

We’ll be taking registrations for our Big Switch until 31 March, and we want to gather a huge crowd. When registration closes we’ll go to the energy companies and Which? will use the people power we’ve amassed to negotiate the best energy deal it can get. If we can secure a great energy deal, we’ll send details of it to those people who signed up and they then get to choose whether to take it.

So if you want to find out what people power can really do, join us in the Big Switch.

George says:
11 February 2012

The reason that, on average, you can save a lot by switching supplier is that lots of people who can’t organise themselves to switch have been left on old expensive tariffs. Not only those without internet – but those who are old, or who just find it too difficult – the ones who don’t or can’t challenge the charges, they are the ones who most need cheaper energy. Another pressure group trying to get a special deal for its own members will only make things worse for the others.

Can we have a pressure group of people who have already reduced their own bills as far as possible and now want to reduce the tariffs for everyone else?

This is going to take time to implement – meanwhile, what has happened to the ‘Switch with Which?’ area of the web site. I acnnot find it now.

Hi Dave – it’s still there, http://www.which.co.uk/switch/ !

Many of the ‘cheapest’ deals out there currently include switching penalties to discourage us from changing when they increase their tariffs again.
If the negotiated best deal includes switching penalties, then I for one, won’t be interested.

sue, bristol says:
11 February 2012

we would all like to pay less for our energy, and undoubtedly providers charge as much as the market will bear, but my concern is the source of our energy. I have recently switched to Good Energy, 100% renewable, and not the cheapest. I am deeply concerned about how energy is generated, particularly, nuclear which I find indefensible. It deeply disturbs me that the focus is cheap energy, not sustainable.

Hi Sue, it’s clear that different factors are important for different people in choosing an energy supplier – we’ve had lots of chat before on Convo about different energy suppliers, with some expressing the same opinion as you that they’d prefer to choose based on green credentials rather than purely cost. Because these factors are important, we’ll be giving people the choice about whether they switch or not once a deal is offered. If you’re not keen on the tariff, you can decline the switch. In the meantime, if you’d like more info on green tariffs, etc, we’ve got more info here: http://www.which.co.uk/switch/energy-advice/green-energy-tariffs

David - London E3 says:
12 February 2012

The old sources of energy are running out. The costs will continue to rise from now on. That’s why the energy cartels are making the most of what we pay now rather than investing more in renewables.
Solar, wave and wind power would provide for all our energy needs at decreasing cost- if energy companies and governments would only invest.
But, Government only looks to the next election, and companies only look to the next bonus or dividend.
The companies have huge lobbying power on feeble and compliciit government.
So, let’s take them on!
More Power to Our Elbow! Sign Up!

“Solar, wave and wind power would provide for all our energy needs…” I wish that were true – but is it? They are all unreliable at best, and some would argue that they can never come close to supplying our base load – but maybe those people are all exponents of nuclear and fossil fuels. How about Which? doing some solid, unbiased research?
The only reliable sources of renewable energy I am aware of, are hydro (not enough in the UK), and tidal, which is staunchly opposed by wildlife protection groups.

Dermot in Derbyshire says:
12 February 2012

Hi Nikki

I have also e-mailed many of my friends with details of the big switch but a common theme is that they are locked in to deals which contain a penalty should they decide to switch. Can you tell me if there are any plans to see if any new energy supplier would cover such penalties otherwise many would, I suspect, stay with their current supplier and possibly not even register an interest.

I appreciate that in signing up you are only registering an interest but as I say one or two have told me – great idea but tied in. I myself come to the end of a tie in at the end of this month and am reluctant to sign up to a cheap deal due to a tie in as I may want to switch if your campaign does indeed show true savings. I am however due to go on a standard tariff from 1 March which pains me!

Good question, Dermot – quite a few people have been asking this. What we’ll be doing is collecting a bit more info about tariffs from the people who’ve signed up (in a few weeks or so) then sending round savings estimates when we’ve secured a deal – this means that people will be able to compare the deals they are on (with any exit fees etc) to see whether they’d save, and how much. So, for instance, if you could save £100 with the new deal but you’ve got a £50 exit fee, then you’ll still be able to save. If your exit fee is really high, and you decide that it’s not worth taking the switch, then you can just decline it.

As we’re looking for a market-leading deal we expect that most people will be able to save something, but of course you’re not obliged to take the deal we find if you decide it’s not best for you. We wouldn’t expect anyone to make the final decision until they know exactly what’s on offer, so I’d recommend to your friends that they sign up and then decide when we send round the final info on the deal.

Michael C Ridge says:
15 February 2012

There has got to be a cartel operating here, albeit covert

Michael Rose says:
15 February 2012

The Big Switch is a brilliant idea ! As a member & ex-Executive of Devon Pensioners’ Action Forum and a member of National Pensioners Convention (Devon) I intend to ensure all our 1,000 or so members are aware of your enterprise and encourage them to sign up ….
My personal problem when I last tried to switch was that my electricity meter was registered to the wrong property and I had to cancel that element of the change – just hope it doesn’t happen again !!!

Charles Garrett says:
15 February 2012

This is the same as the Going Dutch project where local Councils in the Netherlands negotiated big reductions for residents, as described on
I tried to promote this locally but was told there would be all kinds of complications. Hope you can make it work.

Jonathan says:
16 February 2012

Does Which? make money via the affiliate links to the energy suppliers in the email that is finally sent to the people signed up to the campaign?

Do you mean the email that you receive when you sign up? There aren’t any affiliate links on it, so you shouldn’t be seeing anything untoward. If you mean the email that you’ll receive to tell you about the deal – that won’t have any affiliate links either, as it will be a mail telling you about the deal we’ve secured and then inviting you to accept it.

We’re hoping that we’ll cover our costs for The Big Switch – I’ve given a bit more detail about it above. But essentially as Which? is not-for-profit, any ‘profit’ over and above our costs would go towards our work campaigning for UK consumers. Hope this helps!

In theory this is a brilliant idea and one which I fully support and which I hope works, however I am a bit sceptical.

Firstly, as there is at the time of negotiating a deal with the energy companies, no definite number of people committed to switching I wonder how the winning company would view and deal with substantially less people actually switching. For this reason I am not sure that any one of the energy companies would stick their neck out in the first place and be substantially cheaper than the rest of energy companies. If any one of them was prepared to do this then why would an individual company not just drop its prices anyway in the expectation of attracting the a substantial number of new customers albeit they switch on an individual basis rather than ‘en masse’ as part of a campaign.

Should the expected numbers fail to materialise then I suspect that any good deal would quickly disappear.

I would suggest that for the majority of people expressing an interest at this point to go on and switch then any savings would have to be substantial taking into consideration that a lot of existing contracts have exit penalties. Further many people view the process of switching a bit of a bother particularly where they might have to deal with separate energy companies should this be the result of your negotiations. Therfore any savings made would have to be sufficient to convince people that it is worth embarking on the switching process.

If more people wish to switch after the first deal has been obtained would Which continue to negotiate periodically for better deals?

That said, the best of luck anything is worth a try. I will be informing my family and friends to encourage them to register.

Louis says:
3 March 2012

This project is well intentioned but misguided. It will lead to churning (i.e. switching every year) and predatory pricing (i.e. bids from suppliers below cost). Guess who pays for these extra transaction costs and guess who subsidises those loss-leading tariffs? Not the shareholders in energy companies, nor the executives, but the three quarters of households who never or rarely switch. You could say: “more fool them”. But is this really the right relationship we want to encourage between consumers and their energy suppliers? It all feels a bit dysfunctional. I think the best model for consumers to club together and bulk buy is the consumer-owned co-operative. There are three energy suppliers like that out there already: new kid on the block Co-operative Energy, Good Energy (which I think is partly customer-owned) and Green Energy (UK) plc (which gives away shares to its longer standing customers).

Simon Kerr says:
22 March 2012

I have joined The Big Switch but your last email asked me to let my friends know, which is necessary as so far there are only a couple of hundred thousand signed up 2 million would be better, but there is no ‘link’ on the email. I think there should be !

Hi Simon, not sure about that – I think there are links in all the emails that ask you to tell your friends. Please send your email to which.campaigns@which.co.uk and they’ll have a look. Thanks.

ED Webb says:
26 May 2012

I tried to switch with this Which? idea but found out that my address is an IGT address. This is something I had never heard of before. I have managed to go round it by going to the supplier directly.
This IGT item means I pay an extra on my power bills for ever of about £40. This is hardly ever shown on my bills from anyone. Perhaps Which? may wish to explain this conundrum.
26th May 2012

Hi ED Webb – an IGT tariff means your gas supply is delivered by an independent gas transporter, rather than National Grid gas. We’ve got a bit more info on this kind of tariff on the Which? Switch website – hope this helps:

FrankMill says:
30 May 2012

Whilst I applaud the concept behind the Big Switch, and decided to join, I’ve been sceptical about the outcome all along. I have no complaints whatsoever about my electricity supplier or their charges (I don’t have gas). Moreover, my experience of switching utilities (also insurance companies, bank savings accounts, etc.) has been that this year’s best deal becomes next year’s so-so. If you stay with one supplier and remain on guard for outrageous charges (just complain – that’s usually enough to rectify) you average out fine over the years.
Now the results are in. For the hassle of switching I can save £29. I can save more than that by cancelling my subscription to Which!