We’ve launched our third investigation into how energy deals are sold over the phone – energy companies are getting better at offering us the cheapest tariff, but are still struggling to give us accurate quotes.
We rang up the six major energy companies twelve times over the course of a week in November 2012 and asked for a quote for their cheapest deal. Putting aside some of the strange prices we were quoted, what struck me most is that it still feels far too complicated to work out the best deal.
Even after analysing fifty or so of these calls, I was still discovering new jargon and an array of discounts that I didn’t fully understand, from paperless billing discounts to Nectar points as a ‘thank you’. I was also left bamboozled by the subtle differences between unit rates and standing charges that many salespeople listed at the end of the call.
Struggling with the sums
Two of the most striking calls were when salespeople tried to figure out a quote for us using pen, paper and a calculator after their computer system went down:
‘So 15105 x 0.0374 is 565 just about. Right 365 days at 29.616, this can’t be right, that’s £2,000, that doesn’t make sense, try that again. 565,365 times 0.29616, put a point in, it might make a difference. Right £108 that makes more sense. Right so gas would equate to 673, that’s without VAT. VAT at 5% would make that 6, £700 more or less.’
When you see the professionals scratching their heads and performing some seriously complicated maths, it does make you wonder – does it really need to be so confusing?
The answer is… simplicity
In November 2012 we did an investigation that showed that only 8% of people could work out the cheapest tariff when presented with six different energy deals. It’s hardly surprising that most people don’t even bother trying to find out the best deal for them, even though some could save hundreds of pounds a year.
That’s why we are calling on the government to ensure that prices can be easily compared at a glance, like on petrol forecourt displays. A single unit price would allow people to find the cheapest energy deals with ease.
At the moment, the maths just doesn’t add up. It’s time to simplify the process and cut down the jargon, so that we can all have clear, easy-to-compare gas and electricity prices.