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Energy suppliers respond to our campaign – what do you think?

Energy deadline

31 January marked the deadline for energy suppliers to submit their plans to wake up their customers who are sat on standard variable tariffs. So what’s the score then?

Some of you will recall that after a full two-year long investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), last summer the investigation finally concluded.

And it confirmed what we already knew – this market just simply isn’t working for consumers and it’s time for energy companies to accept they need to change.

Disengaged customers

The crux of problem is that, largely we, as consumers, just aren’t engaged with what’s going on with our energy.

And there could be a number of reasons why this is – such as, not knowing how to engage, difficulty understanding energy tariffs or bills, or just simply, a lack of trust in energy companies.

But, there’s a bigger problem here – and one that we’ve been campaigning on – that those who don’t engage are often the ones penalised for it. This comes in the form of paying out for standard variable tariffs or SVTs.

These tariffs are usually the most expensive tariffs on the market. Our research found that the gap between a SVT price paid with the Big Six is, on average, £111 more than their cheapest tariffs and over 58% of the Big Six’s energy customers are on these tariffs.

Well today, Which? was in Parliament giving evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy parliamentary select committee, on what progress we’ve seen since the regulators published their energy market findings last summer.

And we certainly didn’t pull any punches…

Six months after the CMA’s inquiry concluded and energy prices topped the list of biggest consumer worries. What’s more, trust in the sector has continued to dwindle, and the Big Six energy suppliers also found themselves lumped into the bottom half of our annual energy customer satisfaction survey.

From our view, while we’ve seen Ofgem take on the challenge set, and start trialling and testing ways to improve the current situation with our energy, the same cannot be said of the industry.

Energy sector response

It seems that energy suppliers are dragging their feet and waiting to be told what to do by the government or the regulators, bringing into question their commitment to really making this a proper functioning, competitive market that works for its customers.

And that’s exactly why we’ve been calling on energy suppliers to submit plans that show how they are going to help their most disengaged customers, those on SVTs, get engaged and moving onto better deals.

The deadline we set for that challenge is today. We’ve allowed almost three months for energy suppliers to submit their plans – you can see who has responded to our calls on our energy campaign website.

So, after nearly three years of looking at the problems with our energy, we now want the energy sector to start being part of the solution. Their customers have been waiting far too long already.

Update 14 Feb 2017: Suppliers respond

Our latest analysis of Ofgem data reveals that two thirds of energy customers are still stuck on the most expensive deals. As part of our Fair Energy Prices campaign, we challenged energy suppliers to publish plans on how they’d get these customers engaged and switching.

We had 19 responses from energy suppliers and, of those, 14 set out plans to engage their customers, including trialling simpler bills and new ways to make people to switch. Here’s Which? Campaigns Manager Neena Bhati talking about these plans:

Energy prices remain a top worry for consumers, and with the recent price hikes it’s vital that all companies do more to engage with their customers and make it easier to switch to better deals.

We’ve passed all the plans to the government and Ofgem and have called on them to report on progress by the end of April. We’ll also be pressing suppliers to deliver on their plans, and to regularly set out what difference this is making to their customers.

Do you think the energy industry is doing enough for customers? Do you feel the industry works for you?


“The total number of complaints by domestic energy consumers fell by 32 per cent last year according to data published jointly by Ofgem and the Energy Ombudsman today.

The total number of complaints dropped from around 5 million in 2015 to 3.5 million complaints in 2016 – the lowest point in three years.

Most large and medium suppliers solved on average at least 90 per cent of complaints within 8 weeks, the deadline after which complaints may be referred by individuals to the Energy Ombudsman. ”


There were 3.5 million complaints in 2016. If we are having a party to celebrate this then please accept my apologies. 🙁

Hopefully some of them were not serious problems.

I am reporting, for those interested, the news I get sent by Ofgem. Is it better to only report bad news? Like a significant increase in people switching, improvement is always welcome to me.

Extra Energy’s bills are very confusing. The amount shown in the credit column is the total amount paid in, not the balance after fuel costs. Also, three of their call centre staff gave me three different answers when I asked the total amount of charges for the year. Also, monthly statements of usage and cost cannot be accessed easily online.

Geoff says:
3 March 2017

In the last few years our annual usage of electricity has remained fairly stable , there’s little more we can do as a household to reduce our bill . 12 months ago we moved from SSE/Hydro Standard , to a 1 year fixed deal . The renewal letter this year – with an implied threat to return us to Standard – assumes a ‘ personalised ‘ annual estimate that is around 1000 kWh below our usual . In response an advisor produced an estimate closer to our usual figures – I am still waiting a response on why the original renewal wasn’t more ‘ accurate ‘ . Uncharitably I suspect a ploy to make the ‘ savings ‘ figures appear less than they ought to ?

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Presumably it was the billing calculation that went haywire not the consumption recording otherwise we are in trouble. Luckily the error was so big that it stood out; what would worry me would be uncorrected small errors within the margins of normal consumption. I suppose this will be held up as a “freak” occurrence but it must worry people and undermine the credibility of the [not so] smart meter campaign.

Absurd bills from energy companies used to be a problem but that was resolved many years ago. I doubt it is difficult for the software to flag up unexpectedly high bills for inspection by a human.

I doubt if any bills have been generated on the basis of these smart meter displays on smart phones. There must be several points in the digital chain where data could have been corrupted.

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Is this published on line yet, Duncan? It would be interesting to read about it.

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Thanks Duncan, but the link does not work.

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Duplicated post deleted. See below.

Part of your link was missing Duncan: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170303180139.htm

The reason for the incorrect readings is simply that the meters cannot cope with electronic power controls found in many products including phone chargers, TVs and LED light bulbs.

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I don’t doubt the test results but it would have been good if the meter manufacturers and the regulators were asked to comment. If there is a problem on the scale suggested then it needs dealing with.
Many electricity meters – smart or not – are electronic. It would be interesting to know, when a normal household mix of appliances is used – the higher power devices like heaters, cookers, dryers, washing machines, TVs combined with low power LEDs , chargers and the like, what the inaccuracy then is likely to be.

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Heating appliances are resistive loads and would not cause a problem but it would be necessary to look at the original research to establish if the presence of low power goods including electronic controls could cause a malfunction. If not, the report is a worst case scenario.

Still, that’s a high proportion of meters overreading.

There are thoughts to charge households more if their maximum demand exceeds the effective current 15kW. Some overseas countries set tariffs based on maximum demand – it helps avoid high cost of extra capacity in the geberation and transmission system.

“Also, if the penetration of electric vehicles and electric heating increases, as many expect, our approach to capacity may need to change further. Fast chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) and electric heat pumps could require large simultaneous loads, which could exceed even today’s maximum capacity for households. When we consider that capacity may be at a premium, allowing everybody to charge their vehicles and use their heat pumps without restriction could be prohibitively expensive for everyone.

So, in the future, we may need to find new ways of paying for and providing access to the electricity system that meets society’s expectations of a fairness and reliability. This probably means that those that want access to much more firm capacity than is usual might need to pay extra for it. Alternatively, people may want to accept some limit on their ability to consume large amounts of electricity whenever they want in return for lower prices. For example, some users could allow their electric vehicle charging to be interrupted for a short period in order to reduce their charging costs.” (Ofgem)

So the real reason for the push to install smart meters is so that a watch can be kept on consumers who are near to, or some times go over, the maximum capacity level so they can be surcharged.

Maximum demand is a key factor in the cost of generation. Industry is charged on the basis of the demand it might need as well as what it consumes. Most domestic premises will have “normal” demands but power-hungry premises that impose extra demands on the system may have to contribute more. One use would be to limit loading in premises at peak times. Another would be to charge the going rate at the time, so someone who organises more of their usage off-peak would benefit from cheaper tariffs – a more sophisticated version of the Economy 7 approach.

The Ofgem document seems to be from a recent blog rather than a formal document: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/news-blog/our-blog/imagining-tomorrows-low-carbon-electricity-system

Nevertheless it is good to see that Ofgem is giving thought to meeting our needs in the future. I am very much in favour of heavy users of energy paying higher prices. I would like to see all new buildings built with solar panels as standard and orientated for maximum efficiency. When built into a roof, solar panels need not look out of place like those added to existing buildings.

I have noticed that some house-builders are starting this around our area, but mainly for the larger properties with the bigger roofs [and the higher incomes as well I expect]. The only consolation is that the increasing availability of fed-in renewable energy might, eventually, enable electricity prices to stand still if not actually to reduce.

my years bill with Scottish power will be £901.00 their best offerwas £1.178.00 for a one year fix
which I was informd was a slight increase equals 30.74 % increase

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In principle this sounds like a good idea – the UK government has already granted approval for one or more windfarms on the Dogger Bank. The geological formation in the middle of the North Sea is actually much wider east to west than its longitudinal dimension. A significant [and possibly larger] part is closer to the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark than to the UK. This development would not in any significant way restrict UK windpower developments off the east coast of England.

The Danish company DONG Energy is already heavily involved in massive turbine fields in the North Sea off East Anglia. Presumably it was open to UK companies to join in the Dutch, German and Danish partnership.

Luckily, the wind has no knowledge of which turbine is going to catch it and turn its force into electricity. Even better is the fact that, once it has turned one turbine, the wind remains available for further use as it speeds across the sea, its power momentarily diminished at the margin perhaps, but nevertheless ready to serve any other country that wishes to capture it.

Although many people object to wind turbines, they nonetheless reduce the running time of fossil fuel generating plants and are an important part of a comprehensive energy strategy. No energy comes free of charge and the cost of installing a shoal of turbines, cabling to the mainland, and providing the necessary infrastructure to feed it into the grid is probably not much less than constructing a conventional power station.

Duncan – can you give us a reference where we can read more on this scheme?

Derek Fisher says:
15 March 2017

Has anyone besides me ever noticed that gas quality is very variable – things heat up far more slowly on some days than others?
I may be accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but I feel I might be getting “diluted” gas at times – i.e. with air added to eke out the real thing.
As we are charged by volume and not actual energy supplied, it seems easy to do.
Perhaps a campaign for a gas quality (online / “onpipe”) testing facility should be instigated.

Derek, your meter measures gas volume used – cubic metres – but if you look at your bill this is converted into energy – kWh. The conversion from cu. m to kWhs takes account of calorific value of the gas supplied.

I received a new unsolicited phone call yesterday.

An Asian sounding voice from a company that sounded like iswitch asked if I was the person responsible for paying energy bills as she wanted to help me switch to a better energy tariff.

I was busy, the woman was hard to understand so I cut her short rather quickly and didn’t get any details.

But a search on the number 02034098107 revealed plenty of results for nuisance callers.

Today (Sunday) I received an e -mail from my supplier Scottish Power headed “ACTION REQUIRED” which drew my attention to the fact that my current tariff with them will run out in 43 days. Not so appropriate for a day of rest I thought. However in the light of foul weather hereabouts I decided to research my options. I have discovered the lowest priced option is with PFP Energy and that is almost exactly 20% above my expiring tariff.
The Press has warned us that tariffs are on the rise quoting 7-10% so why so much in my case?
Investigation reveals our 20% increase is due to a 40% increase in the so called Economy7 tariff ( from 4.943p/unit to 6.95p/unit and our use of this tariff, as we are reasonably well organised, is approximately 70%

I feel this 40% rise in the Economy 7 tariff which seems industry wide is unfair a best and probably a cynical con particularly of the more thrifty consumers.

I hope Which? will publicise the whole truth about these increases and at least encourage the industry to do the same or even reconsider their prejudicial tariffs.

The energy market is so concentrated in showing what we can save if we move to them that they have introduced a rather nifty lie on the comparisons. I have noticed all comparisons now show your old deal coming to an end with them adding the standard rate of the same company for the rest of the months to make a full year. This is wrong. All comparisons should show your existing deal as a previous 12 month comparison so you can actually see how much your energy is going to go up. They than should show you what would happen if you choose to stay with your existing suppler/s on their standard tariff after your fixed deal ends. For low users don’t just compare a duel fuel as you may find having separate supply’s are cheaper.
We should be asking Which to campaign on the growing trend of the standing charge most energy companys add to bills. Their should be a max they can charge. This charge should be transparent how they get to the figure they are quoting. How can one company have costs of £100 to supply your energy while another company will tell you it only costs £20 to get your energy to you. I feel the energy company have been putting the standing charges up in anticipation of the government bringing in a cap on energy. WHICH GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER.

I agree with you in general Mike but I don’t think there is any longer any true relationship between the ‘standing charge’ and the cost of supplying energy and reading meters. It is just another component in a tariff matrix that people have to pick and choose between alongside dual-fuel, paperless billing and direct debit discounts, exit penalties, and volumetric tiers.

Personally I think every supply point should have a standardised ‘meter charge’ set by the regulator Ofgem which would have to be paid alongside any other tariff; whether or not there should be a geographical element is a moot point – probably not for mains gas because you either have access to it or you don’t. The meter charge would cover the grid maintenance and transmission costs and other indivisible infrastructure costs, and would generally be uniform, at least within any extensive area, regardless of consumption per supply point. That would still leave a large number of variables on which the supply companies could compete against each other, including administration and billing efficiency, customer service, procurement, market volume, and tariff policies and structures.

It would also be good if the government levies and obligations could be taken away from the energy bill altogether.

Higher/lower standing charges often go with lower/higher unit charges and give deals that may suit low, medium or high users best. In the same way, a supplier with zero standing charge will have high unit prices and benefit very low users only.

I would like to see clarity on what costs should go into a standing charge. Ofgem could rule on this and monitor them. There are not simply administration costs involved, but maintenance of connection, government green levies, support for the vulnerable and so on.

I would also like to see “subsidised” or low-profit tariffs abolished – typically fixed term fixed price – so a reduced cost standard variable tariff becomes the norm on which we compare costs.

I manage a contract for our Allotment Society hut. Last year the electricity standing charges were £81.63 and our electricity usage was £15.75 (123kW). We are treated as a business user as we are clearly not a domestic customer. There are no business contracts with zero standing charges like there are for low usage domestic users. It would be cheaper to go back to using candles!

I can’t see any way out of that bind, Richard, unless you can persuade one of the smaller electricity supply companies to put your allotment society on a domestic tariff. If you stick to daylight hours for use of your hut you could possibly manage with a standby generator and a hurricane lamp. Your consumption level would hardly support an electric kettle.

I am with M&S Energy with SSE. I notice that you had no response from M&S Energy, but you have from SSE.
I don’t really understand how these two Companies operate together. It does seem sometimes that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

David Lee says:
30 March 2017

My fixed rate deal with Flow Energy is coming to an end and I’ve just had my renewal notice. Interestingly, unless you transfer elsewhere, they automatically transfer you to their current FIXED rate plan rather than their more expensive variable price plan. This is the first time I’ve had this approach from a supplier and I welcome it
I looked at Which Switch to see if I could get a cheaper price elsewhere. There seem to be many more suppliers than a year ago and I thought I might switch to Iresa and save £102. But then I looked on the internet and found many appalling reviews of Iresa. Anecdotally it seems as if a trend is for newcomers to offer cheaper prices, get lots of new customers but then fail to have the staff to deal with them.

Michael H says:
6 April 2017

Which don’t mention anything about people who rent, who are often told which energy supplier to use and told they can’t change them. I was on a horrible deal with a supplier I didn’t want to be on, but had no option to change this. Which don’t campaign for them, maybe because of who they perceive as who their core membership is – middle-class homeowners. Shame on you Which!

I live in a one bed flat , all electric , and still not warm enough, is £1600 too much fr the year , I only have my heating on for 5/6 months a year.

Do you use off-peak electricity? Do you rent or own the flat?

N Power is having a ‘to do ‘ with direct debits with Santander . Its taken ages to find out. They simply
say it has been ‘ returned’ or deny the dd exists . Its taken several phone calls & emails over several hours to
get to the stage of Rachel of N power to ‘ resubmit’ the dd. The ‘ denial ‘ despite giving me Santander
code & my account number. And to cap it all an email requesting a ‘ feedback / how did we do ‘ sequence.
dr Peter Kai

Dick Barton says:
9 May 2017

All this talk about high prices imposed by the big six s rubbish. The real devil is the Climate Control Act which has put up our power costs and that extra load is increasing dramatically

I think fuel prices should be fixed across the board and fixed to a fair price. Gas is gas, electricity is electricity and the product is the same whoever I’m paying for it, why should it be more with some and less with others. Full regulation and fixed pricing with the interest of the consumer IMO

Raw fuel accounts for only around 43% of a typical bill, and it is not “the same”. It will depend upon the source of the gas, the method of generation of electricity, how the companies buy the raw product, how far ahead they buy it, the cost of distribution, the efficiency of the supplying companies’ businesses………………………………. Competition among suppliers (48 or thereabouts) creates different prices based on different costs. That is why it is more for some, and less for others. And time of day matters – electricity is cheaper off peak when demand is less but they’d like to still sell more to keep the plant running efficiently.

Should we also cap car fuel prices? Most of us spend more on this than our household energy. What about heating oil, LPG? Where should intervention stop?

The winter fuel allowance of £200 goes to all over 60 whether they need it or not. This is twice the estimated saving from price capping. So just give the £200 allowance to those who don’t pay tax and redistribute the rest to those in genuine poverty.

Incidentally the CMA, I believe, when asked to look in detail at the whole market, were not in favour of price capping for general consumers but felt competition was still the right mechanism.