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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.


I’d rather you get a discount on peoples existing tariffs. I’m on what I hope is a good tariff for my needs already (I pay around 60% of the average), so the thought of switching isn’t something I’d be keen on, unless of course if saves me even more. But say a £5 per month reduction on my existing bills ( Just doing a quick check on cashback sites you say “refunds” of £20-£100 for switching, so these companies can afford a small reduction in my bill). I’d also hope that the more people you get the bigger the discount and it would save the companies the expenses of setting up new tariffs, like we don’t have enough of those already. And please talk to these nice Money Saving Export people as they started talking about this already too.


Hi William,

It’s a good point – some people will already be on comparatively cheap energy deals, but as we’re aiming to secure a market-leading deal, most people should still be able to save something by joining The Big Switch. What will happen is that if we manage to negotiate a deal, we’ll send an email out to all those who registered explaining the deal and giving them a tailored savings estimate, so they can see how much they’ll be likely to save. Then they get to choose whether to take the deal up or not.

Getting a discount on people’s existing tariffs is an interesting idea, but could be a real challenge. We are still campaigning for more affordable energy for everyone (see here: http://www.which.co.uk/affordableenergy) and would love to see a more competitive energy market where it’s easier and more desirable for people to switch – then you’d be able to easily see which was the best deal. Unfortunately at the moment around six in 10 people have never switched, so we thought that we’d try to do something that would make switching that bit easier for people, and also ensure that they knew just how much better off they’d be after the switch.


Caitlin says:
7 February 2012

I think this is a fantastic campaign and am very excited to see real people power in action.

Phil says:
7 February 2012

Sign any 38 Degrees petition and they consider you a member and will bombard you with e-mails about other petitions they’re running. I see the target is to get 100,000 people to sign up to this scheme. As that’s about the same number of people who switch energy supplier every week anyway does Which? seriously think it’ll be enough to lever a really good deal out of an energy supplier which already has millions of customers?

I take it somebody has already approached some energy companies to make sure they’re prepared to participate?


Hi Phil,

Sorry, this is a really long answer but I wanted to make sure I’d covered your points! Bear with me…

To answer your main question – yes, we do seriously think it’ll be enough to get a really good deal – we wouldn’t be doing it otherwise! I understand why you think it might be tricky, but we believe that with enough people we can secure a market-leading deal, meaning that everyone who has signed up should save money.

Since we launched the campaign yesterday, almost 45,000 people have signed up so we’re confident that will continue to increase over the course of the campaign. Our consumer research tells us that the majority of people find the idea of The Big Switch appealing because it’ll save cash and take a lot of the hassle out of switching.

Regarding the companies, we started talking to energy companies before launching, and while we weren’t at the stage of asking for a definite commitment we had encouraging levels of interest from suppliers.

And finally, although you might be skeptical about the numbers, don’t underestimate the power of group action. It’s not every day that energy companies have the opportunity to get so many new customers in one fell swoop, so we are confident that this will encourage them to offer something truly market-leading.

On your point about 38 Degrees – they’re signing people up through their site and we’re signing people up through http://www.whichbigswitch.co.uk – if you’d rather not receive communication from 38 Degrees you can sign up through our site, which lets you opt-in to our emails if you’d like to (and if you’d rather not get them just leave the tick-boxes blank).

Hope this answers your questions!


Gerry says:
8 February 2012

Together we all have a lot of power and all it needs is organising, So I am excited to think that this group will be big enough to get a better deal. Companies can’t afford to loose large ammounts of customers and will soon try and commit to a better group deal.. Roll on nexrt for the banks, they certainly need sorting out.

Ryan says:
9 February 2012

What fee’s are Which expecting from the winning energy provider for introducing such a large number of customers?


Hi Ryan,

Good question – Which? is a not-for-profit organisation, but we’ve run up costs to do this – for software, publicity, expert advisers etc – that we won’t get back if we can’t get a good enough deal for everyone or if not enough people sign up.

If enough people join up, we hope to cover all our costs. If we do make any more than our costs, 100% of anything left over will fund our campaigning work on behalf of all consumers. You can find out more about our campaigning work at http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns, and if you’re interested specifically in our energy campaigns, go to http://www.which.co.uk/affordableenergy to see what we’re up to.

Hope this helps!