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Co-operative Energy: what The Big Switch means to us

a big switch on red background

This week we announced the results of The Big Switch – Co-operative Energy won with the cheapest tariff on the day of the auction. In this guest post, Nigel Mason of Co-operative Energy explains what it means to them.

When we launched Co-operative Energy 12 months ago we promised to challenge the big six and, most importantly, champion a fair deal for customers. In our first year we have attracted 25,000 customers and proved to the rest of the industry and to the public that it is possible to operate an ethical energy business which has its customers’ best interests at heart.

United buying wins the title

Last week we were successful in winning The Big Switch auction. We beat bigger, more powerful players to offer the most competitive energy deal in all three auction categories – online direct debit, offline direct debit and the cash and cheque category – proving undoubtedly that we are highly competitive and that our values, the things that we believe are important, are important to customers too.

So we have proved that we were the cheapest option on average as part of the auction.

We were pleased to win The Big Switch – not just for offering the most competitive price but so that more of you can join us in our mutual business model. We’re the only energy supplier wholly owned by our customers which means if you obtain your energy from us you share in our profits and are instrumental in how we’re run.

So if you’re one of the new customers who joins us via the Big Switch you will not only be making big savings on your energy bills – over £200 for those on the worst value tariffs – but you will also receive a twice-year dividend.

Power to the People

United buying, where customers get together to increase their buying power, is at the heart of the co-operative model, which is why we were keen to be part of this first, large-scale collective buying scheme.

There’s a huge difference between united buying and mass serial switching – a practice encouraged by some in the industry, where a small number of customers hop from one loss leading tariff to another. That may be good for very active switchers but is terrible for everyone else who has to subsidise their savings. And it adds a new tier of cost to bills that are already hard for people to stomach.

Ultimately, the more people who join Co-operative Energy, the stronger our purchasing power and the more clout we have to compete against the Big Six and continue to offer a better energy deal for all.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Nigel Mason, Business Development Manager at Co-operative Energy all opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?

Norman Naylor says:
18 May 2012

Received the quote, completed the forms and made the switch. It’s unlikely any takers will get a deal anywhere else that will be better by a worthwhile amount. Some respondents are, I think, missing an important point. If enough of you switch, the other suppliers will sit up and take notice. You’ll be helping to drive down energy costs and increase competition, especially as the end point of the fixed term approaches. Go for it!

Eileen says:
19 May 2012

Everyone should switch from those large energy companies on principal even if you are not getting a good deal.Last year I switched from British gas and I swear I will never EVER go back to them even if they were the cheapest on principal.I have not got around to switching to the Which / co op energy yet but I will even if it’s not saving me money.Hope in time more people can see that it’s not the money but the principal.Those large energy companies are greedy and lining their pockets especially the directors and chief executives.Which you should try harder,I don’t think many people know about your campaign unless they are with Which.Can people who are not with Which join in?Lots of pensioners don’t have computers to join your Which campaign and it’s us who need help most with cheaper energy.Which you should make it more user friendly and also for people who don’t want to use computers but just want to fill a simple form to join in your switch campaign.

Chris B says:
19 May 2012

I have not received an ‘e-mail’ with my options – how do I ask for a quote as there does not appear to be any applications on the Which? website?

Anne B says:
19 May 2012

Very good idea, though I had an idea that Ebico could not be beaten in my case.

I did receive an offer to join the Big Switch but, when I looked into the figures Which provided, I found they were giving wrong ones for Ebico elec in my case. I am in the South East and was quoted over 20p/kWh when, in fact it is over 17p/kWh. Thus my savings were ever smaller.

I tried to phone to point out the discrepancy but held on for 7 mins and gave up.

So I await the next Big Switch, ever hopeful.

Ed says:
21 May 2012

Norman and Eileen have got it. It is not only about money but about bringing pressure to bear on the big six who have been ripping us off for far too long. Big profits for share holders will always take priority over fair deals for customers. The big six operate the same as the banks. Not a lot of choice. Same big interest charges same measley saving rates. If which can’t achieve an outcome then lets re-nationalise energy and keep the money within the industries and not to providing fat salaries and pensions to the chosen few.

Hi David L, sw, Chris B, and any others who have not received your email – it’s worth checking your spam folder just in case it’s got trapped in there, but if you still can’t find it please call 01992 820 565 and one of our call handlers will be able to send you a personalised link to your savings page and help you switch if you’d like to.

Pip says:
21 May 2012

There is an important outcome that many of you are failing to recognise. Whatever the result of the Which? exercise in terms of cost savings, it has raised the prospect of collective change in a lot of peoples minds which is really important. Those of us who are willing to wade through the misleading crap published by the power corporations are able to recognise the better prices. Unfortunately the power companies rely on the fact that for most ‘ordinary people’ haven’t got the time, skills or initiative to make these kind of inquiries, so any action by a trusted organisation is welcome. The long term hope is that they will be challenged by greater numbers and more frequently, then they will have to respond!

John says:
21 May 2012

“please call 01992 820 565 and one of our call handlers will be able to send you a personalised link to your savings page and help you switch if you’d like to.”

Just tried that and got recorded message “No-one available …”

Michael C says:
24 May 2012

In fairness, I must preface these comment by saying that I applaud the principles behind your campaign.
However, like many of your other contributors who had received no response to their applications, I contacted the help number given. After a considerable wait,I spoke to one of your advisors who informed me that, although you had received my original application, I had not provided any usage details. This was incorrect, but I nevertheless agreed to resubmit the information.
When I phoned back with the details I was informed that you already had this information(!) and that you would sent me a quote. In this you claimed to be able to show me an annual saving of £310 from First Utility or £132 from The Co-Op against a current tariff of £2,283. As my annual tariff from E-On is in fact £1,452, I would be paying £521 more a year to switch! You will not be surprised to learn that I am staying put for the time being!

Margo says:
25 May 2012

I am an existing Cooperative Energy customer who signed up out of interest in how this would work.
I will make a saving so have switched to the fixed deal. It will be interesting to see how long this takes, surely not the average 4-5 weeks ?

I am in the same position and was given the impression that the conversion to the new fixed-rate tariff would take place quite quickly, although the confirmation documents I have received do not actually give a start date. In my case the savings are estimated at £188 a year [actually £50 more than was originally forecast in the Big Switch process as a result of more up-to-date consumption data] so a little delay will not have a big impact on the overall savings, especially as we go into the summer season. Even if we move and have to pay £30 per fuel as an exit penalty, it is still worthwhile.

Phil says:
2 June 2012

So the results are in and 36,000 people have switched… a shame about the rest. Out of all who signed up nearly 90% are going to go away disappointed. It won’t exactly encourage anyone to sign up for future Big switches.

Still, Which? gets it’s £1.4 million in commission so who cares.

So it all happened while we were on holiday abroad. I don’t do computers and email while away, so the deadline had been and gone while we were away. Having read the above comments, I think we’ll just stay put with our usual provider as we’ve just started another Fixed tariff deal as of 1st May. I have tried Uswitch on several occasions, but the best we could do was £34 pa saved, but with a company based a long way from home, and with whom I had a bad experience in respect of my daughter’s student flat some years ago.

I have sympathy with you Trish. Although the Big switch process seemed to be filling my inbox for weeks, tha actual auction results and decision time were extremely compressed – we came back from holiday just in time. I find the Cooperative energy a very understanding and customer-friendly organisation and perhaps if you speak to somebody directly they will accommodate you. Even one of their existing tariffs might be better for you – they don’t necessarily figure on Uswitch and other comparison websites.

Phil says:
4 June 2012

The Co-Op tariff allegedly negotiated by Which? is available to anybody, you can sign up to it without having to be part of the Big Swizz.

So less than 4 months after getting 30k customers, Co-op will be putting their prices up by 2%, I wonder how their offer will compare will the market now.

I wanted to come on and respond to a few of the recent comments:

Phil – The two fixed deals, the online and offline Direct Debit deals were only available through The Big Switch. The Co-op allowed their existing customers to switch to the deal but new customers could not. The deals were entirely new and they were introduced solely because of the Big Switch.

William – The majority of people that moved to Co-op during The Big Switch signed up to the online or offline fixed tariff, which means their price will stay the same for the full 12 months. A small group of people switched to the cash and cheque variable tariff. The nature of variable tariffs means that prices can go up but can also come down.

We spoke to The Co-op and they told us:

It is disappointing to have to affect an increase but following this price rise, prices will then be frozen until at least 15th April 2013. Variable tariffs can go up as well as down but we always try to keep them as low as possible, lowering them where we can. For instance, we last reduced our prices by 3% in February 2012 so this 2% increase still leaves our prices 1% lower than they were on 1st December 2012.

Garry Jones says:
24 March 2014

My father signed up with co-operative energy thinking they are cheap. Little did he know that no one there knows what they are doing. My parents was with British Gas paying weekly. My parents went to the post office to pay it every week. Because they changed to co-operative the co-operative sent the wrong payment cards both gas and electric as payments went missing over £150. After phoning them 7 times they kept saying they have sent the cards which they didn’t. Because of the delayed cards our bill has now gone over £500. My parents went through heart attacks, I don’t want them ill because of the worry and stress. We live in a bungalow not a mansion. Now today we received a demanding bill from them for £84 which they want. They made the mess they should deduct the bill as my parents have retired and living on £50 per week pensions. I am totally appalled the way co-operative have treated them. Years ago we was with CALORTEX…they went into administration because of over charging now co-operative energy are following there same tracks. How can “which” give them an award for ripping off customers.
We signed up with them in July 2013, now its March 2014 and the total bill including what we’ve paid is a total of over £900.

phil says:
17 June 2015

CoOp energy
Poor web site, Poor customer service.
Really good if you pay your bull but still want reminders, and if you tell them you have paid and they agree then joy oh joy they still send reminders??.
You could try phoning give your self a good 45 minutes, you can e mail but don’t expect a reply….
Not a good opinion I know but you can only say what you find…