If you’ve been tempted into a fixed-price energy deal, be sure you know when it’s due to end. Otherwise you could be automatically put onto another fixed deal – or worse, charged a hefty fine to switch supplier.
With winter well on its way, thoughts turn once again to energy costs.
Last week, power giant Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) marked the run-up to the festive season with an early gift to its customers – a hike of almost 10% in gas prices from December.
What happens when fixed deals end?
With other suppliers almost certain to follow suit in the coming months, some of us may be tempted by the range of ‘fixed price’ tariffs that offer some protection from volatile prices.
A guarantee that you’ll pay the same price for a set period – typically a year (although two-year fixes are available from some suppliers) – has an obvious attraction for those looking for peace of mind on energy costs. But if you go for one of these offers, make sure you’re aware of what happens once this fixed period comes to an end.
Our October investigation into energy tariffs found that some suppliers automatically move fixed tariff customers onto a new fixed deal if the customer doesn’t tell them otherwise. If you didn’t want this to happen (perhaps you simply missed the letter or email from your supplier) you’re faced with a hefty ‘exit fee’ to get out of the contract.
As stories in the press this week reveal, these fees can be as much as £75 for a dual fuel customer or £200 on other deals.
British Gas is one of the suppliers that does this. It told us that the practice was a response to feedback from its customers, showing that ‘customers expect to be offered a new and alternative fixed-rate product at the end of a fixed-price contract’.
If they’d been told about a £70 charge to switch to another (perhaps cheaper) deal, I don’t think they’d have been quite so enthusiastic. The phrase ‘a licence to print money’ springs to mind for some reason.
EDF Energy also has an ‘automatic rollover’ policy on fixed tariffs – although, to its credit, does give unwitting customers a month’s grace to switch to a different tariff or supplier before exit fees are due.
Other suppliers told us they put customers on their standard tariff or another tariff without exit fees. And rightly so – people should be free to choose the product that suits their needs best, while companies shouldn’t be allowed to capitalise on customer inertia.