/ Home & Energy

Ever been confused by an energy tariff? You’re not alone

Man confused by bills

Our latest investigation reveals that while Ofgem’s new rules for standardised energy tariffs are a step in the right direction, most people still find them confusing.

Most of us know that understanding your energy tariff is the key to comparing prices. And you probably wouldn’t make any other purchases worth well over £1,000 a year without first checking if you could get a better deal.

So surely it’s good news that energy regulator Ofgem has this year brought in new rules on how energy tariffs are structured? Not as much as you might think, as we found when we put the new energy tariff rules to the test.

Tariffs still confusing

In our most recent experiment, we challenged 505 people to spot the cheapest deal using the standard tariffs of the big six energy suppliers (British Gas, EDF, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE).

We found that only a third of people picked the cheapest deal when tariffs were presented in line with Ofgem’s new rules, where tariffs are made up of a unit rate and standing charge.

Of the rest, three in ten picked the wrong tariff and a third either didn’t think it was possible to calculate or didn’t know how to.

Fix the Big Six

Now the results of our latest investigation are better than when we ran a similar test in 2012 on the old-style energy tariffs, when just 8% of people could pick the cheapest deal. But clearly it’s still not good enough that the majority of people failed.

Previously, energy tariffs were a bit of a free-for-all, with some made up of a standing charge and unit rate, others just of a unit rate and others of two tiers depending on how much energy was used. There was also a variety of discounts and rewards, expressed sometimes in pounds and other times in percentages, which added to the confusion.

So while the new rules have helped, our results show efforts to simplify tariffs have simply not gone far enough.

That’s why we have launched our Fix the Big Six campaign, calling on the Government, Ofgem, competition authorities and the energy companies to drive forward radical reforms to fix the broken energy market, including simpler tariffs.

We want to see an energy market you can trust, where you have the power to spot the best deal using simple, easy-to-compare pricing.

So what do you think about how energy tariffs are presented? How could they work better for you to easily compare energy deals?

Alsop says:
14 March 2014

One thing the big six do right is they display all their tariffs on their main web site so you can work out how much it will cost to chnrge,standing charges & cancellation fees.
However the smaller companies like extra energy, ovo etc do not.Even if you phone them they cant quote you the tariffs for your area.
You have to get a quote and you have to put your name address etc to get the quote if you dont go with them you get e mails etc asking you to move to them.
ALL enegy suppliers should be made to put on their web site a table of charges including tariffs,standing charges and cancellation fees.
So this must change as well

From a Conversation published last September: “This bewildering array of charges is yet another example of how the energy market’s too confusing for us to find the best deal. That’s why Which? has been calling for simple tariffs, without standing charges, displayed in the style of petrol forecourt prices, so that we can all easily spot the cheapest deal.”

I am glad that Which? is continuing to pursue the issue of complex energy prices but very disappointed that they seem to have stopped pushing for simple tariffs without standing charges. Not only do standing charges cause confusion but they mean that those who use little energy are subsidising those who use more. Ofgem has allowed energy companies to offer tariffs with no standing charge but the unit price is higher, so that they are often a more expensive option.

The fairest way is to get rid of standing charges and have simple prices that can be compared, just as we compare the cost of petrol or a loaf of bread.

Some people compare the cost of electricity and gas regularly and switch to ensure that they are always getting their energy cheaply. Many don’t do this regularly for various reasons, and it is too difficult for a significant proportion of the population.

It is time to consider those who struggle to pay their bills. Come on Which? and continue the campaign for simple unit prices and no standing charges.

I entirely agree. It is my endeavour to be at ease with utilities, as I am sure most people wish to be. I can’t stand the constant manipulation of tariffs but I am not prepared to keep on doing a comparison exercise to see if switching would make a worthwhile difference. Every switch costs the industry money and causes the householder a degree of inconvenience with more correspondence, bills and junk e-mails. The government seems to want us all to be at it all the time whereas what it should be promoting is a fair, consistent and transparent price structure. The only benefit I can see from competition among the major suppliers is that it squeezes out administrative and service inefficiencies [the bane of the old regional gas and electricity boards]. Even the simplified tariffs are more complex than they need to be with contract terms, exit penalties, fixed-rate deals, and such. It’s all become a gamble and we just don’t need it. The differential costs of energy transmission and supply don’t have to be translated into standing charges. I think I’ve said before that there is a case for every property paying a basic standard meterage charge set by the Regulator across the country but after that it should all be priced by consumption.

Thanks for making the point about the cost of switching, which all customers have to pay, whether or not they are the ones who are doing the switching. I trawled through earlier Conversations but failed to find a post where there was an estimate of the switching cost.

Everyone needs energy, so I believe that the energy suppliers should be under much greater control than most companies.

james says:
14 March 2014

forecourt pricing is not the panacea you think it is. customers will still need to know how many kwhs of electricity and gas they use to work out the cheapest and this lack of knowledge is half the problem.

the other problem with forecourt pricing is that people with second homes will be subsidised by people with families or the elderly or ill who heat their homes all day to the tune of £100 to £200 per year.

James – One of the advantages of simple unit prices is that no-one has to estimate their energy consumption. I don’t have to estimate how much diesel I use to decide where to buy fuel for my car.

We have well established ways of supporting those who have genuine need. I agree that those with second homes should not be subsidised but it is not difficult to see workable solutions.

With a standing charge, low users are subsidising high users, which is not fair. The complexity of current pricing demonstrates that the energy companies and Ofcom are doing little to help those who are not up to finding the best price.

Sorry, I do not understand that point at all. Why are low users subsidising high users? Standing charges reflect the fixed costs of supplying energy to a household, independent of the level of consumption. Even if you consume almost no energy you will still have those costs by virtue of having an active connection to the network.

A significant part of the fixed costs are due to the network providers and transporters like National Grid and Transco. They charge the energy providers for the use of their networks so part of the standing charge is passed on to them.

Supply of energy to your house is not directly comparable with filling your car with fuel (unless you’re referring to an electric car). Until you have a petrol supply pipe running to your house or you can take your house to a energy station for a top-up, then the comparison is misleading.

Standing charges have nothing whatsoever to do with the costs of supplying energy. If they did, the standing charge would depend, for example, on whether you lived in a densely populated area or in rural areas.

The costs of distributing petrol are included in the price per litre, so that the price is the same, irrespective of how much fuel we buy. That makes it easy to compare prices.

In the UK we have people who are really struggling to pay their fuel bills. They are low users because they have no choice. Thanks to standing charges they are paying more per unit than profligate users.

What I am suggesting is that we should consider those less fortunate than ourselves.

That’s exactly what standing charges do do! They vary across the country. Suppliers do not charge the same amount across the whole country – your location is a significant factor in the costs.

Standing charges were common practice before the suppliers were privatised but were then increasingly replaced by tiered products. The first tier was more expensive to reflect the costs of supply but of course did not prevent customers reducing there bills to a low level by restricting their consumption. Standing charges are now back in use again because they were mandated by the government as part of their simplification drive.

Energy suppliers have less control over distribution costs than oil companies – they cannot choose which distributor to use and they cannot own the distribution network themselves. It is really more complicated than the supply of petrol.

Suppliers provide a lot of help for struggling consumers by running schemes like Warm Home Discount aimed at customers receiving Pension Credit or other benefits. Surely this is a fairer way to target help where it is most needed?

There is not much the suppliers of gas and electricity can do to add value to their basic product in order to attract customers and increase sales. It’s not like a kettle which might boil faster and have a merry whistle, or a toaster that might have a streamlined appearance and a nice colour to complement your worktop. It’s gas, or it’s electricity, and that’s about as fancy as it gets. What the companies can do is wrap it up in tariff packages and sell it by the bundle. That’s why we have standing charges and all the other bits and pieces that marketing people drool over because such devices are good for bamboozling the customers, especially if you can lock them in a contract term. If there were any geographical, transformer siting, or pipeline location issue at the back of standing charges, all the standing charges from all the suppliers in a given district would be the same, but they’re not. If standing charges were a sensible commercial way of recouping infrastructure costs the petrol station operators would charge you just for entering the forecourt and wiping your hands on the paper towel before you even drew a teaspoonful of fuel from the pump; alternatively, the price would taper downwards the more you put in your tank. This is a small country. In the big picture, there is no great variation in costs, and even if there is, it doesn’t matter – equality of treatment is more important. We have a universal postal charge so we can have a universal connection or meter charge, set [like the postage rate] by the Regulator. Then the energy companies can concentrate on customer service [some scope for uplift there I should think] as the key market discriminator, and if they want to help the poor and needy of their own volition, unprovoked by political interference, they can do that by themselves and then even the pensioners and those on income support could pick and choose whose gas they want.

In a typical dual fuel energy bill of £1128 you are paying for more than just raw energy – which is only around 40% of your bill, or £450.

The rest of your bill pays for:
– the infrastructure to deliver the energy (pipes and wires, storage etc) – around £295
– suppliers’ costs (meter costs, staff to buy energy, bill you, admin, buildings, profit) – around £188
And government “charges” – carbon tax, supporting low-carbon technology, improving customer energy efficiency, supporting vulnerable customers, and VAT – around £194.

If you have a single tariff then the more energy you use, the more you will pay towards the supplier’s costs and to the government charges. Is this fair? Because it is a fallacy to suggest that all users of more energy are capable of giving more financial support to these non-energy elements. Many will be the elderly – who need more warmth and are at home all day; larger families with less disposable income in larger houses; less well-off families in houses that are poorly insulated, difficult to insulate, and without the means to improve them; those with medical needs needing round the clock warmth and using appliances consuming power; people in poor-quality rented accommodation and so on.

We need a more thoughtful approach to this. For example, why tax gas and electricity? It is as essential as food and we don’t tax that. Why not take out the government charges and put them into general taxation, where those with more means can fund them.

Which? Is being a bit misleading in these conversations in not presenting all the facts in a balanced way – rather it is pursuing a blinkered mantra. It should adopt an impartial, objective and constructive approach that does not lead to a great many consumers, vulnerable and poor, being unfairly disadvantaged.

“we challenged 505 people to spot the cheapest deal using the standard tariffs of the big six”.
I would be interested to see the tariffs these people were shown that gave such poor outcomes.

Checking your best deal – and other competing ones, because you may choose customer service over price – is extremely easy for many. Just use the Which? Switch to calculate your bill.

I wonder how these failed candidates get on filling in their income tax return, working out a household budget, applying for a mortgage, dealing with benefits – some of the many things you may need to deal with in your life. Maybe it is more of a condemnation of a poor education that we have to oversimplify everything because we believe so many are incapable of accomplishing these tasks. I don’t believe the British Public as a whole are that dumb. I hope I won’t be proved wrong!

Dave b says:
21 March 2014

Theiffs were shown in the full article in the printed magazine and were:
Npower. Standing charge 0p/day, unit rate 17.105p/kWh;
SSE. £60/year, 13.99p/kWh;
E-on. 16.422p/day, 13.871p/kWh;
Scottish power. 27.39p/day, 13.805p/kWh;
British Gas. 26p/day, 12.27p/kWh;
EDF. 18.9p/day, 13.550p/kWh.
I had three thoughts about the findings.
I was amazed at the error and “not possible to calculate” rate. The calculation should not be beyond anyone.
The Tariff Comparison Rate will as the article suggests lead to more rather than less confusion.
Shocked that no mention was made of smart etering. Already one supplier has promised free energy on Saturdays. Smart meters offer rates that vary by the season, day or hour. If we as a nation cannot cope with a standing charge and a unit rate, smart meters will make comparisons utterly impossible. We do not, after all, buy our household energy at spot prices as we do for petrol, and even with smart metrs we won’t be free to do this (buy at the cheapest RIGHT NOW). Instead we will have tariffs that simply cannot be compared even by an expert.

Dave b, Thanks for the information. Can’t find the printed article – which month please?

Dave b, found it online – my printed copy has not yet arrived! Just wondered what the annual consumption used was.
Frankly, I am appalled that so many people were unable to work out the annual cost. Perhaps it would simplify things if all standing charges were shown in £/year to save you having to multiply a daily rate by 365! If you can’t multiply two numbers together and add to another then it is a sad indictment of our education system. Even worse that some (18%) appear unable to even compare two numbers.
If elements of your energy bill are not related to consumption – examples given above – then ignoring them simply to make life easy means higher users (who are not by any means all profligate!) will pay an unfair contribution to these elements. This is not a reasonable approach.

Calculating your energy bill from different suppliers will never be “simple” because as well as the tariifs on offer, it will depend upon how much you consume, and when, and of course your attitude to risk.
For example
– do you choose a variable tariff, one fixed for a year, or 4 years? You have a choice. Do we not want to be able to choose?
– do you use, or could you, a significant amout of electricity at night when it is cheaper – so you could choose an economy 7 or 10 tariff. But you need an idea of your annual consumption at full rate and economy rate to work out whether this offers the best deal, and from which provider.
– smart meters offer the opportunity to buy energy at different rates at different times of the day, when in principle unit prices will vary, because of demand changes (electricity companies like to keep demand as constant as they can, so will boost demand at certain times by offering cheaper rates). You can only attempt to work out how this will affect you if you have a consistent history of energy usage at different times.
These examples all potentially bring cost-saving benefits to you, but will never be easy to predict. But if you opt for a single tariff at all times you will never benefit. Is that what we want – no choice?

The fact is, this is not a simple topic, and never will be. To attempt to force it into a simple form will distort the market and remove much of our ability to make a choice. Is that what we want?

We have an easy way of predicting our cheapest bills by putting our annual energy consumption into Which? Switch for example.

The biggest chunk of our energy bills is for heating and hot water so, for most people, choosing the most economical gas supply is the big issue and this is where the tariff debate is concentrated. Many of the people in East Anglia have no choice but to use oil or electricity for heating and hot water, and this includes a high proportion of the elderly, vulnerable and poor, many of whom are aslo living in quite exposed, ancient and poorly-insulated property. There doesn’t seem to be so much concern from the metro-centric Which? over the hardship found in rural areas and the lack of competition in oil and electricity prices.

bernard danson says:
20 March 2014

(1) When changing supplier it is currently not possible to specify a switchover date. My proposal is that suppliers should be required to incorporate a “on or after” date field in their websites. The absence of such a field can mean in practice either (i) incurring a penalty charge with the current supplier because the switchover occurs before the end of a current fixed term agreement or (ii) incurring unnecessary costs on the current suppliers default rate during the period after the current fixed term agreement ends and before the new supplier takes over.

(2) Currently a supplier’s “quote” screen can give unit and standing charge rates without clearly stating whether VAT is included or excluded. My proposal is that suppliers should be required on incorporate a “includes VAT” or “excludes VAT” statement and that all suppliers should be required to act consistently. This would make it easier to compare quotes.

I have just read the article “Simplified energy tariffs aren’t simple” in the April issue of Which? magazine. I am absolutely delighted to see that Which? is still pushing for a single unit rate without a standing charge. That’s something that all consumers could understand.

I believe that the energy suppliers are doing their best to ensure that a substantial proportion of the public is unsure whether they are getting a good deal for their electricity and gas, and Ofgem is listening too much to the companies and not enough to consumers. And let us start thinking more about consumers and less about shareholders, since energy is something we all need and not a luxury item.

Malcolm R has clearly explained why a single unit rate is a bad idea; it will distort the market, it will remove choice and it is simply not a fair way to charge for energy.

As Malcolm said on 15 March 2014 at 6:26 pm:
If you have a single tariff then the more energy you use, the more you will pay towards the supplier’s costs and to the government charges. Is this fair? Because it is a fallacy to suggest that all users of more energy are capable of giving more financial support to these non-energy elements. Many will be the elderly – who need more warmth and are at home all day; larger families with less disposable income in larger houses; less well-off families in houses that are poorly insulated, difficult to insulate, and without the means to improve them; those with medical needs needing round the clock warmth and using appliances consuming power; people in poor-quality rented accommodation and so on.

Also, as he said earlier today, ‘The fact is, this is not a simple topic, and never will be.’

And energy suppliers are doing their best to ensure that prospective customer can understand their enrgy offers. Why would they do otherwise? It’s simply not in their interests. Misleading customers would mean more complaints, which would mean being downgraded on consumer league charts and more turnover of customers. The energy suppliers want happy customers because churn in the customer base is much more expensive than retaining customers.

Ofgem needs to ensure that all suppliers present their offers in a standard way that allows comparison of like-with-like. This does not mean forcing them into an artificial structure (like a single tariff) which would create an unfair distorted market.

Sorry Chis but I disagree. I think that consumers are a lot more important than worrying about markets.

I see that British Gas are now going to be offering free electricity on Saturday, which should add to the confusion.

Fairness is far more important than an artificial simplicity. Many people will be quite capable of choosing the supplier and tariff that suits them best. Those who are quite unable to do this can be helped – don’t penalise those who can.
We should be looking at other aspects of the energy market – removing government-imposed charges from individuals bills, removing VAT, and leaving just those elements that are directly related to your energy consumption. If some companies choose to offer you the option to pay for sertvicing your account with an annual sum, fine. If others choose to include it in their unit cost, fine. Consumers should have choices.
This has all been debated in several other conversations – there are clearly views worth taking account of on both sides of the argument so somewhere there is inevitably a compromise that can be struck – as is always the case when the answer is neither black nor white. What is surprising, and disturbing, is that Which? seems unable to assume a balanced and impartial stance that takes account of all views. It seems to have dug a hole for itself in promoting unit-costs only without having a ladder to climb out.

We are agreed that fairness is important. What is fairer than prices that can be compared easily, just like we compare the price of a litre of petrol or a loaf of bread?

To quote from the April issue of Which? magazine: “When presented with the standard tariffs of the big six energy suppliers, just 35% of respondents were able to pick the cheapest deal.” We need to consider all consumers and not just those who can do the sums.

We are just going to have to differ on this Malcolm. 🙁

Wavechange, this is not about whether you and I differ.
I think it is important to put the arguments and differing points of view in this debate in front of people so they can make their minds up – if they haven’t already – on the basis of information. Which? has not been providing all of this, and the result can therefore be a bit misleading to those who may not be wholly aware of what is involved – including myself.
I wonder how representative the sample of respondents was, and the conditions of test. I remain appalled at the thought that it implies 65% of Britons are numerically illiterate. That is not an excuse to artificially dumb everything down.

In the last couple of years I have discussed energy prices with many people and I have little doubt that Which? is right that the whole issue of energy prices is very confusing to many people. I doubt that Which? would be pursuing a campaign on energy prices if there was not a significant problem.

I very much agree that we should fight poor numeracy and dumbing down (and I spent my working life doing both in two well respected universities) but my view is that the top priority is to make everyday issues such as energy prices easy for everyone to understand. There is no need to artificially complicate matters. 🙂

All that ‘simplifying tariffs’ has done for the consumer is reduce choice.

I, for example, can no longer stay on the Staywarm tariff I was on and was quite happy with.

The apparent ‘complexity’ of tariffs was always pretty irrelevant, as most people compared by use of comparison sites without knowing, or even caring, what the unit rates or standing charges were. In fact, it was practically impossible to find your unit price on any supplier’s website until recently.

This is a poor result, caused by the government and campaigners thinking it would be a jolly good idea to ‘dumb down’ something that wasn’t nearly as complex as it was made out to be, and we are now left with fewer tariffs to choose from as a result.

Mike says:
22 March 2014

I agree with Biggles. I have just carried out a comparison as my current deal is about to end. With a large number of different tariffs on offer, it used to be possible to find one which suited my use pattern. Now it’s “simplified” there is much less choice available.
It’s not rocket science for goodness sake. The test comparison in the April Which took me less than 5 mins. The level of maths needed used to be top Primary / 1st year Secondary school.
How do people manage their mobile phone / TV bundle comparisons?

jdn says:
24 March 2014

Could never see what all the problem was with the previous system – just used to enter my annual usage into the Which? and another comparison web site every year. Then looked at the results and any conditions to decide who to go with. Presumably my energy bill will cost more next year because many of the alternatives have been removed.
I’m surprised at the difficulty people have in working out which of the 6 was cheapest – a reflection on the education system. I suppose the Which? proposal would remove the need to do any calculation at all – but then people won’t know if they are a light, medium or heavy user.
As a regular switcher I would add this past year both my daughter ( nPower) and myself (Scottish Power) have had great difficulty getting final statements and then refunds when we have switched from them. Is this a trend to discourage people from switching ?

I would also like any comparison to show electricity and gas separately from each company as well as dual fuel. It may well be cheaper to buy gas and electricity from different companies.

Same here. I saw the Which? ‘experiment’ for the first time today in the magazine and found it hard to understand how 50% got it wrong even with a calculator. It doesn’t get much simpler than adding two sums together to make an annual figure.

But you can’t go round fiddling with everything just to make it easier for the Hard of Thinking. Life can be pretty challenging sometimes, and choosing an energy supplier isn’t one of the hardest decisions you have to make.

All this has really come about because energy is getting more expensive and some people are hurting. I can understand that. But the fact is that energy, as we use it at the moment, is a depleting resource and it’s going to get a lot more expensive. We need to tackle the root source, not fiddle with the pricing structure.

Roddy says:
25 March 2014

I’m amazed at how few of your consumer panel could correctly work out the cost scenario. It’s only two multiplications and one addition – something any 10 year old should be able to do with a calculator.

The scenario used is unrealistic at only 890 kWh a year. I live in an average house on my own and use around 4000 kWhrs a year. On that basis, the much maligned British Gas comes out by far the cheapest and your preferred NPower the dearest at almost £100 more!

Simplifying the tariff further to just a single rate would make the market less competitive and reduce choice. All the providers would gravitate towards a single rate which would probably be higher than now. Much the same as when insurance premiums went up when EU gender parity rules were introduced.

Consumers need choice as my example above shows. Your “simplified tariff” would cost me £44 more per year than the British Gas account.

No thanks!

– Roddy.

siraj adamally says:
6 April 2014

I don’t see anyone, including which?, fuming about how energy companies (once you are tied up in their contract) can blatantly force you to increase your Direct Debit payments in spite of protests backed by facts and figures. Then six months later you find you are about £300+ in credit.
Energy companies should be forced to pay commercial rate of interest when they behave in this unreasonable way. IT WILL STOP THIS PRACTICE PRONTO.

jdn says:
6 April 2014

If my and my daughter’s experience are anything to go by two of the six big energy companies are discouraging swapping by making it difficult to get final statements when you swap away.
In the meantime you have built up a big credit and you can’t get your money back.

It has taken my daughter almost 6 months and she still hasn’t got a final statement she can believe in; her credit balance is in the hundreds of pounds. Avoid nPower.

That’s unfortunate for you but it is a case of swings and roundabouts. Would you be prepared to pay interest to the supplier when you are in debt to them? Over the whole UK customer base at any one time it is a fact that customers owe the energy companies more than they owe us.

I have never had a problem getting a refund of a credit balance when I’ve asked for it so maybe it is just company dependent. Vote with your feet!

Chris – I never had any problem with getting e.on to provide refunds or adjust my direct debit but others have not been so lucky and some have posted messages about this on other Conversations.

If I was in debt to my energy supplier I would be happy to pay that immediately. I would love to be on a direct debit tariff that allows me to pay what I owe by direct debit.

At the moment I am £62.20 in debt to Scottish Power but since they have increased my direct debit by 15% I don’t think it will be long before I have a generous credit balance.

I would not mind if customers and suppliers paid interest on credits and debits, providing that the interest rates were the same.

Credit & debit balances should be a thing of the past once we all have smart meters. With meter reads uploaded everyday, the monthly or quarterly payments will always reflect the actual consumption over that period.

Some suppliers already have variable direct debit schemes which are based on monthly meter reads. Of course, if you don’t have a smart meter yet then you have to supply those readings to avoid being billed on an estimated consumption.

The cost of the smart meter roll out will be enormous and many are concerned about other issues. Many of us are happy to supply our meter readings online, whenever needed.

jdn says:
13 April 2014

1 I don’t think I have ever been in debt to an energy supplier – they always make large Direct Debits to build up a credit during the summer so that never in debt in the winter.
2 “Vote with your feet” – that is what I have been doing for many years but now at least 2 of the big 6 have become inefficient at repaying money owed ( Try listening to recent “You and Yours” and you will hear that nPower are causing big problems).
Another thought …… with smart metering it should be possible for energy companies to charge at different rates in half hour slots throughout the day so as to even out the load profile. So tariffs would become more complex ….How will the simplified tariff/petrol pump model cope ?

“with smart metering ….How will the simplified tariff/petrol pump model cope”. It won’t, but those who are prepared to use electricity at off peak times will benefit. Equally, those using at peak times will probably pay more. It will need effort to get the best from the system. But there are other fundamental reasons why unit-only tariffs are unreasonable.

jdn says:
13 April 2014

Yes – “simplified tariffs” will have a short life; whether people like it or not they will need a computer to get the best deal – which is where we were before.

We pay green taxes. These taxes then are taxed with 5% VAT. Double taxation.
Taxing the taxes. A nice underhand way to raise money for the Government.

Single, double, triple…what does it matter? It’s all tax!

You think someone’s pulling a fast one here? To what end? Perhaps to pay all those MP’s expenses?

Governments run countries. Governments raise money through taxes to run countries. If you don’t like the government then vote for a different one but there will still be taxes.

As there seems no chance of returning to the actual topic of comparing different tariffs, perhaps it’s time they closed this ‘conversation’ down.

Tony F says:
12 April 2014

Regarding the energy tariffs article in the April 2014 issue of Which magazine, how on earth can 2 out of 3 people fail to calculate the cheapest deal with all of the information given? We’re talking simple arithmetic here, not complicated maths. Even 1 in 5 failed when all they had to do was pick the lowest unit price. Maybe this explains why you see people filling their petrol tanks at expensive petrol stations when a cheaper one is just down the road.
Of course, the push for “simple” tariffs is raising the price for those of us who are prepared to shop around and find the best deal. But, where will all this end? Should we make all shops charge the same prices for everything so that nobody will be confused? Should we stop internet traders undercutting the high street because it disadvantages those without a computer? Should we stop discounts for direct debits because not everyone has a bank account?
I remember the days of Resale Price Maintenance and there were many campaigns to bring it to an end. Now it seems that we are heading back in that direction. Maybe it is time we stopped moaning about the advantages that come with intelligence.

There is a National Numeracy Challenge that aims to help people gain skills in numeracy. It begins with your own views on your confidence, followed by a series of tests to assess your competence. If you fall short it then aims to help you improve.
Perhaps Which? could draw attention to this and promote it – might help those who failed to work out the best tariff.
(the partner code nw15 is Nationwide who informed me about it)

I very much welcome this initiative to improve numeracy. It would made more of an impact if it had been usable on smartphones and tablets at the time of launch.

I am as sure as I can be that the complex pricing of energy is done deliberately to confuse consumers and discourage them from seeking the best deal, making more profit and greater dividends for the shareholders. This would also explain why Tesco continue to avoid putting unit prices on multi-buy offers. The general recommendation is to use a price comparison website (more than mental arithmetic is needed) to find the best deal, but what about those who don’t have a working computer, or are housebound, or are just old and confused. Why should they pay higher prices because those lucky enough to have their wits about them can benefit from cheaper energy prices. Energy and food are essentials and governments past and present should have dealt with the problem of complex pricing. It is selfish not to consider those less fortunate than ourselves.

Recently a young man used a calculator to work out my change from £5 for a pint of beer after a momentary power cut put the tills out of action. Perhaps he could benefit from the numeracy campaign. 🙂

“It is selfish not to consider those less fortunate than ourselves.”
This is a quite inappropriate comment aimed at those who have views that differ from yours. I believe that people should be able to benefit from their own initiatives and actions – we should not ban them from doing this only because there are others in a less fortunate position. Rather, for those without the facilities or abilities what we should be doing is to provide them with the help and assistance they need, whether from family, friends, charitable organisations or public bodies.
As I understand it your current energy provider is obliged now to notify you if a better deal is available to you. They cannot automatically change you onto it because it may not suit you – it may involve a fixed term for example. Those less fortunate would still need helping to make the change in tariff or provider, whatever the system.
As regards unit-only tariffs, if they were totally based upon your energy consumption they would be fair. But they are not – your energy bill includes items that are not related to consumption, so higher energy users will be paying more towards these than low users, providing a cross-subsidy; that is not fair. Many people who use more energy pay a higher proportion of their income for it – they are neither wealthy nor profligate.

Malcolm – There is no doubt that buying energy has become more complex following privatisation and I am very glad that Which? is taking action to deal with the problem.

Perhaps we could agree on moving the cost of providing energy to general taxation.

Gordon says:
16 April 2014

I do not believe that the complexities of the energy market can be reduced to a simple unit tariff. For instance the cost of generating electricity changes with time (as demand changes) and with distance from the point of supply/generation (due to transmission losses and costs).
However the previous system was becoming too complex with obscure discounts etc added before/after tax.
A start would simply to have all tariffs to be quoted after all discounts and taxes etc allowing easy comparison.
To make comparison quicker/easier there is a case for quoting standing charges on a yearly basis.
The so called “typical” consumer does not exist and the resultant electricity “TCR” quoted on my latest bill is 14.14 p/KWhr compared to 15.14 p/KWhr when based on actual data.

Whatever system is used, the consumer will still have to know how much energy they use if they want to know how much it will cost and different compare suppliers

jdn says:
17 April 2014

But surely you don’t have to worry about complexity if you use the Which? plus ANOther price comparison site ? The cry goes up “… not everybody has a computer or knowledge to use one …” . Equally even with simplified tariffs what about those people who don’t have the numeracy skills, understanding or can be bothered to compare prices ?

WhatDL says:
27 May 2014

Variable daily standing charges. I suggest that Which might like to look at the large variation in standing charges available between suppliers and even between different offers by the same supplier. We are always looking at saving money but a supplier that is topping a lot of comparison sites at present can offer anything between 2.125 and 19p/day. this must be a indirect method suppliers are using to keep prices higher than they need to be! I suggest WHICH look into this

jdn says:
27 May 2014

Personally I can’t see the problem if you know your consumption and you use a couple of price comparison sites. The more options the better – limiting them will disadvantage somebody.

B Davies says:
2 February 2020

When you get an increasing credit balance on your energy account every month like I have seen this year I believe you have right to assume that you are owed this amount. I assumed that my next years charge would be reduced by this amount.
Now at years end my account shows my credit has disappeared and my monthly charge has increased by £20 a month.
How come?

Yes – it’s a question well worth asking your energy supplier. Have you checked the terms and conditions of your contract? You might find they refund you the excess credit at the end of the contract year, but that doesn’t explain why they would need to increase the monthly payment if the present levels always leave you in credit. Alternatively they might be intending to raise the tariff in which case you should consider switching to a different supplier.

I had a word with our researcher who does our energy company. She says without talking to your supplier it will be hard to say why the credit went.

It could be that the company thinks it has refunded you (but I’m guessing you haven’t received it), your tariff has gone up and the credit has been used to off set that or that they have been missing meter readings and a recent reading has meant an adjustment to your tariff. Best thing to do is to get in touch with your supplier.