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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!


I’d really like to see an initiative like this work.
However the cynic in me tells me that any gains are likely to be small.
Hopefully tens of thousands will sign up to this, great, but any typical big six supplier has millions of customers. Everyday tens of thousands are switching between suppliers looking for a better deal, suppliers coax them in with promises of lower bills or low bills fixed for a period or a tariff format that saves money etc. etc.
I’ve a feeling that unless “Which” gets half the population signed up all the suppliers will offer is yet another fancy named tariff that “appears” to be a good deal, and, most likely there will be a “lock in” period.
I think I’d describe myself as a “serial switcher” I’ve tried just about all the big six and I can now work out my bills and translate “tariff speak” into “plain English”. I’ve also found that even comparison sites can only give very general guide to the best deal unless you know fairly accurately what your annual usage of Gas and Electricity is going to be.
Over recent years I’ve concluded that the best deals going consistently come from the smaller suppliers like Energy Warehouse and OVO.
I’d be very surprized if anything this “Which” initiative comes up with beats what is already there with these smaller operations.
But let’s see what happens.
I’m glad someone is having a go and I’d like to be proven wrong.

Exciting! 50k have signed up to The Big Switch in less than 48 hours. Good work everyone!

Executive director of Which? Richard Lloyd, said: ‘It’s encouraging that more than 50,000 people have signed up to The Big Switch in less than 48 hours, but we’re urging people to get their friends, family, work colleagues and neighbours to join the campaign too.

‘The greater the numbers that sign up, the stronger our bargaining power when it comes to negotiating with the energy companies.

‘This new way of joining together to cut energy bills has clearly captured people’s imagination and tapped into their frustration with rising energy bills. Next we’ll need the energy industry to play their part.’


But we need more, so tell your friends and family!

Just think how many more you would get if you targeted those WITHOUT internet. The vast majority likely to be those that need the help the most. e.g. The elderly.

I promise this will be the last time I ask how are you targeting those without the internet. I feel my simply question is being ignored by too many.

Hi William – great question, and it’s something that is always at the front of our minds. We’re very aware that many of those who struggle most with energy bills are also those who lack access to the internet. We’ll be doing lots of face-to-face and grassroots work over the next few weeks (people have until 31st March to sign up) and we’re hoping that by doing that we’ll be able to reach people who wouldn’t have found the website.

While we can’t guarantee that the final deal won’t be an online-only one, we’d love to have more people from this vulnerable group sign up, as that means we could potentially negotiate a deal for them as well. Even if it isn’t possible (and it is really challenging) to get a great deal for these people who need it most, if The Big Switch is a success we may look to doing a similar thing for other groups.

Been thinking about this a bit more since my first comment. It’s great that by Feb 9th 50k had registered an interest, probably a lot more by now (16th).
Now correct me if I’m wrong but signing up does not commit you to anything?
So when “Which” goes off to talk to energy suppliers all they really have to bargain with for a “market-leading deal” is in effect a petition. A petition saying “we want lower energy prices”.
Well, I think everyone who pays an energy bill wants that and I suspect the energy suppliers know that too.
So, what actually is it that “which” has to bargain with to get this “market-leading deal”?
Certainly not a commited list of many thousand names who will definately switch to this new deal. Rather a list of names who would like the option of cheaper energy.
Not really a deal clincher is it?

Having said that a petition expressing depth of feeling over ever increasing energy prices and reports of ever increasing energy supplier profits is no bad thing.
It’s just that this “big switch” seems to be getting hyped into a massive collective bargaining initiative destined to achieve a “market-leading deal” wheras really it’s just a petition, one I agree with mind you, but still just a petition.
Lets see what the energy suppliers reaction is to it?

I’d rather see a “which” campaign pushing for re-nationalisation with a strong independant body to oversee the operation and keep efficiency up, and prices down.

I love the idea of this campaign! (Is ‘campaign’ the right word?) But is there a worry that pushing for the lowest price will mean the ‘winning’ company could be cutting costs so much that they won’t be investing in infrastructure and other good things?

(Also, we are still not very clear how Which is hoping to recoup its costs …)



The infrastructure issue – we hope that suppliers will be able to offer a tariff that is market-beating, without compromising any of their obligations e.g. CERT.

We have spoken to all of the major and most of the smaller suppliers and there has been a significant amount of interest in taking part in a collective switch.

As to how we’re hoping to recoup our costs – the way it’s worked in other countries is that suppliers pay a referral fee to the switcher – in this case us, for getting the new customers. This should help to pay for costs we’ve incurred for things like promotion, software, etc, and any surplus will go back into the Affordable Energy Campaign. Which? is a not-for profit organisation, and so this is the same model we have for any profit from the mags and products we offer.

George says:
10 February 2012

We decided to switch both gas & electricity from British Gas to Npower in November last year. After applying to Npower we were given a switching date of 19/12/11, were asked to supply meter details and readings and told it could take up to 5 weeks to get the accounts set up. Electricity account went through OK, but on 30/01/12 we were asked to supply the gas meter details/reading yet again. When I called 02/02/12 I was told it was only an up to date meter reading that was required, and that it would be pushed to the back office to get the account set up. 10/02/12, called again and was told that it could take until 28/03/12 to get the account up and running but the customer service could not give me any convincing reason the the delay(s). If you decide to switch be prepared for some problems.

Alan Mulvey says:
10 February 2012

It’s about time the consumers made a stand,they put their prices up together, so it goes to show that all the companies work together, now that’s not a FREE MARKET. when prices go up they go up straight away, if they come down (what a laugh) it will usually be in a few months time. What is the point of trying to get the best deal when the prices are all the same. Well done with your campaign, we should also target people that don’t have computers, that way we will get more on our side to fight the GREED of the power companies, just a quick question how many power companies are BRITISH owned?

I think this is a brilliant initiative and I have sent an email to all my friends telling them about it. If you think it is a good idea too, you could do the same. Perhaps Which could do a pro-forma which would make the work less for new supporters and add gravitas.

I hope you will allow me to bore you with a relevant short story. In the distant past before the first oil crisis, long before the green movement, people actually changed to oil heating. I did. I could buy my cheap oil from a number of local suppliers, the price varied a bit, one was the cheapest but not by much. I walked along my road and went to each house where I could see an oil tank. There were about 15. Each householder was keen to join a group purchase scheme. We got one supplier to give us all a price considerably lower than the best I could find. There were no conditions, just quote the name of the scheme to get the price. Simple eh?

Look at it from the other side. Which/38 Degrees will bring say 100,000 new customers with no advertising costs. That has got to be very interesting for a gas/electricity company.

Now, what other things could be treated in this way? What about a special ID card to buy petrol/diesel?

I love this heating oil story! We do get lots of questions from people with heating oil about how they can reduce their bills, and I think this is a fantastic initiative.

Would be great to get other people’s thoughts on what else could be purchased in this way. One of our sister organisations – Choice over in Australia – did a ‘Big Switch’ on mortgages. This web page is a bit old as it’s from 2011, but it gives you the idea: http://www.choice.com.au/consumer-action/money/big-bank-switch/choice-big-bank-switch.aspx

Have last week changed to a which best deal on switch with a £30 penalty so I hope I have not missed out!

Thats one of the reasons I suggested they just apply a discount to peoples existing tariff.

I am a 75 year old pensioner and have never switched before but have thought of doin so just recentlly. I am with EON for duel fuel and have been offered a saving of £106.51 by EDF. The only thing thats stoping me is the problems I have read about when changing over. At my age I can do without these problems. Why should there be any problems ?

veloman says:
10 February 2012

I just switched from npower to Good Energy and have to say the latter is a breath of fresh air. You actually get to talk to a person when you ‘phone them! They may not be the cheapest but the bit extramay be worth it for the service. They were very helpful with my FIT application too in the mad rush in early December.

Armitage says:
10 February 2012

I am a pensioner and have been with EON for a number of years now on their ‘stay warm plan’
I do notice when telephone calls have been received to persuade me to switch, as soon as I mention stay warm, there’s no more pressure to switch. Is the contract I am on a good one?

Is the ” Staymarm ” tarrif with EON still available as Ive not seen it anywhere on there list of tarrifa ?

I find I have abnormal views.

First of all … I want all companies that I depend on, to make profit. Without this they will vanish into bankruptcy and I’ll be left in the lurch.

What I want is the destruction of their cartel ….. which this country seems to find an impossible task. Mandatory jail for directors is the only way ….. if there is the slightest whiff of collusion at any level.

Next I want you and them to stop pretending they sell energy ….. they don’t. The main commodities they sell us are electricity …. and gas …. and oil …… perhaps a little coal and a few logs. These are completely separate strands with completely separate distribution systems and the sooner you all stop falling into their traps to lock you in this pretend world, like “dual fuel” discounts, the better. The group term “energy” is just a marketing gimmick to let them lever up all the prices when one gets naturally high.

We want a fair price for each of these, based on their costs, their investments and their need to make a return for the risks they take on by laying out the investment …… no more, no less. Perhaps this sounds like price control and regulation ….. maybe, but aren’t these commodities deservingly strategic in nature? We certainly don’t want to depend on an Ombudsman arbitrator whose wages get paid for by the utility companies ….. and I feel our present Regulators are far too hands-off … they feel like expensive extras who nod when they are told.

Lastly, this new exciting group-purchase idea …. don’t we have this already through companies like Ovo or the Utility Warehouse? ….. or even buying electricity from British Gas?. None of these makes or distributes the stuff that keeps you warm ….. they just combine the purchasing power of all their customers and negotiate with the small number of producers and distributors on their joint customers’ behalf.

I’m afraid our energy world has gone crazy since privatisation …. in all sorts of ways …. imagine the super-wealthy getting even super-wealthier by huge rents for parking “political” windmills ….. or some tax-payers funding the solar panels for others because the real investment decision was unattractive.

We really need transparency and morality to clean up the mess ….. not another group to use purchasing power for a few internet smarties added into a very dirty system that will only recover any advantage the smarties gain from the meek and unaware.

Trevor says:
14 February 2012

Hmmmm … you list a bunch of objectives but don’t actually propose many (any?) practical means of achieving them.

I think most people would agree that the existing markets for gas and electricity supply are highly inefficient but is anyone holding their breath for near-term practical measures to sort the problems?

I for one am happy to go along with the Which / 38 degrees proposal as a practical, here and now, initiative to try to rebalance market power. Let’s give them a chance … to see whether they can produce a deal or two and evaluate them on their own merits in relation to existing supplier prices and those of any other group purchase schemes.

Andrew Sterling says:
10 February 2012

I am with with a small supplier which provides power from 100% renewable sources, and I do so for ethical reasons. They do not claim to be the cheapest either. So does this campaign really apply to me and is my signing up to it be relevant?

I have already used Which? Switch twice now. Some years ago NPower out of the blue upped my monthly direct debit by £60 a month – this for a widow with a cat and a dog living in a modest semi-detached. Using Which? Switch and having spent several days calculating my average annual consumption (separately) of gas and electricity, I moved over to Eon and my bills dropped back by £80 a month!

But in Autumn 2011 Eon suddenly decided to increase my monthly direct debit with no warning by £23 a month. Foolishly they sent me several pages of “explanations” and I discovered on page 2 that the actual amount they needed was more like £10-£11 extra month, so why the £23?! Which? Switch came up trumps again and I have moved to First Utility and back to the amount I was paying before with Eon.

The Big Switch sounds a great idea but has come too late for me unless and/or until First Utility decides to imitate its bigger brethren and show the usual lack of any loyalty or common sense and biffs me again for all it thinks it can bully out of me.

Since seeing this mentioned on Sky News last night, I signed up immediately
I have also bulk emailed all my friends who I think would be interested
Brilliant campaign

I wish you luck but like others I’m doubtful this campaign will achieve much if anything at all. I’ve not bothered switching as I believe all the companies are as bad as one another………I wonder how the people who have switched and tied themselves to a deal for a period of time are feeling since British gas dropped it’s electricity prices ?

If we can’t stop those at the top (company directors, bankers etc.) paying themselves huge bonuses on top of huge salaries how realistic is it to expect the energy companies to take any notice of the grumblings of those at the bottom of the food chain? Was ever thus !