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Your views: energy suppliers

energy supply

Is your energy supplier good to you? Or do you find yourself regularly switching and searching for ways to keep your energy bills down?

Whether it’s debating the looming winter bill, examining the collapse of GB Energy, or discussing the sector as a whole, we’ve talked a lot about energy over the past few months.

Here are some highlights of your comments…

The switching game

When talking about energy bills, we found there are a number of serial energy switchers on Which? Conversation.

Jackie, for instance, appears to have saved hundreds by staying one step ahead of the game:

‘I switched a couple of times over the past few years, I was paying dual fuel with British Gas, which was £175 per month. I switched to Scottish Power, because of a small saving and got my bills down to £167 per month. After two months with them, the price went up to the same as BG. I switched again to EDF, and up until last month, paid £88 per month. That was two years ago. They are now putting payments up to £92 per month, which I think is fair. There are four adults here in a three-bed house. I also had a £200 rebate on my last bill.’

We’ve also heard of impressive investigative work going on to tackle energy bills. Which? Conversation commenter, Sean, detailed the findings of his work:

‘I have managed to monitor and record my energy bills over a three-year period and have concluded that the cheapest way is to only put on heating when you come home from work, and not keep it on a constant low, as this is not economical (neither is a Hive, Nest etc…). I have saved over £100 p/month so far. What I have also found is changing light bulbs to LED definitely saves money and if you have an open fire, install a wood burner, as this makes a huge difference.’

However, for others, there’s little appetite to play the switching game, as we’ve also heard from plenty of people who are quite happy to stick with their provider.

John Woodhead explained:

‘I have been with SSE for the past four years, three years on prepay meters and then changed to open meters on a two-year fixed tariff. The change over was free of charge and with the help of their customer service, was completed without any problems.’

And Mike Palmer added:

‘My wife and I have been with British Gas for our electric and gas for the past 28 years, since, in fact, we set up home together. I have been asked, bullied and begged to change my provider, but BG have always given me the very best service. Their staff are friendly and will chat within minutes of asking to talk with someone – something other companies do not or cannot do, some taking up to two hours to get back to you.’

But while John and Mike have had positive experiences, your comments prove that’s not necessarily the norm.

Energy satisfaction

In our annual energy customer satisfaction survey, we quizzed nearly 9,000 people about their experiences with their energy company and ranked 23 energy suppliers in GB and six in Northern Ireland from best to worst.

And once again it shows that the Big Six (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE) continue to lag behind some of the smaller suppliers.

In November 2016, we launched our energy campaign after our research found that energy providers simply weren’t doing enough to help move their customers off Standard Variable Tariffs, which are often the most expensive.

We’ve been calling on energy providers to outline a plan on how they will help these customers switch tariffs, setting the challenge of producing this plan by the end of January. So far we’ve seen signs of movement, but still no concrete plans…

What do you think of your energy supplier? How do you think they could serve you better? And do you have any energy-saving tips to share?

What's most important to you when choosing an energy supplier?

Cost and value for money (89%, 407 Votes)

Customer service (5%, 24 Votes)

Simple and easy billing (3%, 14 Votes)

None of the above... tell us in the comments (2%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 456

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I took out a duel fuel contract with e.on in October and at present I am £259.93 in credit, despite having smart meters, so there is no excuse for overcharging me. When I arranged the contract I specifically asked e.on not to hold on to my money in that way, but they obviously did not listen.

I was with Ovo in my previous home and they behaved more responsibly. They might regain my custom when my contract with e.on expires.

bishbut says:
19 January 2017

I am in credit with OVO I do not mind as they pay interest on the money and asked me if I wanted to reduce my Direct Debit payment as I was somewhat overpaying for the energy I was using Why did you change from OVO???

The previous owners of the house were customers of e.on so I thought it would be easier to stay with them to avoid the possibility of problems with switching, as I had experienced with one switch. To start with, e.on was not overcharging so I took out a contract for a further year. Roll on October. As you say, Ovo pays interest on credit balances.

Not yet, Lauren. It was your Convo that prompted me to have a look at my account last night. When I was with e.on in my previous home I used to call them regularly over growing credit balances. Scottish Power were worse.

Interestingly, OVO has just repaid some £600 to me, and I’m still in credit. The minuscule interest they pay is still more than most banks, anyway.

Dr David Noble says:
19 January 2017

the negotiated industry standard is to return to your nominated bank account any amount over £5

Some utility companies will tell you that they only return monies at certain times of the year ie half yearly

This is NOT the negotiated agreement
If you experience this remind them you know well the industry standards and will raise a formal complaint with the ombudsman if the monies are NOT returned within 5 business days
An air of authority,and, punctuate your email (always in writing!) with a threat always works well

Carry out your threat though if necessary!

Dr David Noble

In my case a telephone call has been all that was needed to obtain a refund of credit balances or – more often – to cancel an unnecessary planned increase in a direct debit payment.

Several years ago I moved from e.on to Scottish Power and was told that SP tried to arrange that customers built up a credit balance during the summer months to offset greater energy use during the winter. I acknowledge that might help many people budget but I can manage my own money adequately without this ‘help’.

Did they tell you Wavechange that this money being held is being used as usery elsewhere ? I will run through my archives to find the relevant one relating to this .

If all companies were required to pay interest on credit balances – as Ovo does – I suspect that the problem would soon disappear. In earlier Conversations, some people have reported having much larger credit balances with their energy companies than anything I have experienced.

Duncan – are you sure the balances held by energy companies are being used for usury [the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans that unfairly enrich the lender]? If so I should be interested to know more about that. I had assumed the customers’ withheld credit balances were being used by the energy companies as part of their treasury operations – the internal management of money supply within the company in order to balance cashflows for optimum commercial advantage. If carried out successfully such money management should benefit both customers and shareholders, although it would benefit customers more if they returned any credits above £5 as explained above by Dr David Noble.

Here is what e.on say about refunds: If you pay by fixed monthly Direct Debit it’s normal, for example to build up a credit over the summer months. The credit will then be used during the winter when you’re likely to use more energy. You can still request a refund, we’ll ask you for a meter reading and warn you that your future Direct Debit payments may need to change, as we try to get your balance as close to zero as we can by your annual review.

From my limited knowledge, this seems to be fairly common practice in the industry and I have little doubt that it helps people who are not very good at managing their money and/or are more comfortable with fixed monthly payments. Like many people, I can manage money and would rather have surplus in my account than that of my energy company.

I fail to understand why fixed direct debit is a significantly cheaper way to pay energy. My most recent bill from e.on indicates that my payment will go up by about £68 + VAT per year. I’ve never failed to pay an energy bill in my life and I don’t understand why I cannot simply pay for what I use without being charged so much extra.

Wavechange-Thats why I worked out a fixed payment by DD before I took up the Co-op Energy contract I would probably be under paying BUT I also took out an energy payment card to pay for the balance – hence no “surplus ” for the company to hold -ergo – a happy customer.

Working out your likely energy bill is not difficult, is it duncan? Easy if you have a reasonable history of your consumption. As you have done you can then see what a sensible monthly payment should be and agree that with your supplier. If you cannot work out your bill yourself, but know your consumption approximately, Which?Switch shows your annual spend likely with your chosen energy supplier and tariff.

Frederick Meredith says:
7 February 2017

QHave been with Sainsbury Energy(British Gas)for just 12 months,and after being scammed at Scottish Power I have daily recorded my energy use,my readings do not agree with there estimated ones,thus I am being charged what they estimate.l did advise my yearly use i.e. From 1/11/15 thru1/11/16,in response they advised readings thru to December 16,and when I tried to get alternative quotes it would appear inter company advice used the expanded readings to give me a price i.e. 14 months,this puts you off changing due to the inflated use.Since this I have asked the bank to switch me to quarterly payments,such that I can monitor charges,and action as required,this not allowed,I am advised,my problems only came to light as I was trying to get more in formation that I could chase up Scottish Power.n.b.phone calls on hold to this company are very expensive,when making an attempt via this method,the phone call was terminated after. 45 minutes.Further follow up on this overcharge for Gas&Electricity is in progress .

Wrightv says:
13 February 2017

I have. Been in battle with SP for two years for a bill of £1,411.00
When they are not my suppliers and never have been ! Moved to EDF recently and getting my £940 credit back from
Ovo been waiting since I moved on 03/01/17 as they were putting my DD up with all this lying in the account!

I switched to E.ON also in October, coincidentally just before the collapse of GB Energy, my previous supplier. My credit with the latter was repaid the day before their downfall fortunately. I’m on a fixed price one year deal and my DD was set at an acceptable level having given them my normal annual consumption. I’ll see how it progresses.

I think fair energy pricing means, in part, getting rid of subsidised deals; these are primarily the fixed term fixed price tariffs that seem subsidised by over-priced standard variable tariffs. So Which?, I think, should focus on this. SVTs would reduce in price and the switching options would then become more a choice of supplier.

I am now with Co-op Power (Midlands ) for a second term(dual fuel ) with the same fixed rate as the year before , while comments are raised above about credit building up I did come to terms about how much would be taken out in DD payments . That was fixed for the first year but during the winter you do of coarse use more fuel , to combat that I asked specifically for a Co-op fuel payment card that I could take to a PayPoint/PO and input the difference this stopped the business of – my fuel provider is keeping my money ( cue SP ) yes I had trouble with them and yes I have it archived , BG lost its dual fuel supply due to B Mindedness (PC) and if I cant resolve my problem with them about the same issue on my 2 star maintenance contract then I will look around for another maintainer. So far I have nothing but praise for Co-op Power , nice staff , obliging , fair etc , I have been with the Co-op in one shape or form since childhood , and my mother before me. I have a lot of Co-op facilities (car insurance etc }

@ldeitz, hello Lauren (correct spelling this time!). Ofgem are consulting on their “simplification plan” and include consumers in the consultees. Are Which? participating in this?

II fail to understand how anyone can run up a large credit balance at this time of year with much heavier useage with OVO as they provide a monthly online statement which includes a prediction chart to prevent you paying either too much or too little on your DD account, enabling you to adjust your monthly payments accordingly.

With their promised 3% interest on credit balances it makes perfect sense to them that you don’t build up a large credit balance, unless of course you decide to use your energy supplier as another way of gaining a better return on your money than the banks are currently offering.

My balance accrued over the summer months was insufficient to cover the OVO August price increases to see me through the winter months, so I adjusted my DD in the autumn to cover this. I am just about solvent at the moment with a small credit, but much depends on how long this very cold spell is going to last whether I have to increase my monthly DD payments again.

With further energy prices set to increase again anytime soon, the energy outlook is not looking good and The Winter Fuel Allowance for those eligible will soon be swallowed up if these increases continue unabated. It helps if you have an energy supplier that allows you to have autonomy over your payments and in return you are expected to supply your meter readings on a regular basis.

My current credit balance is small compared with some people, Beryl. Despite the credit balance I mentioned above, e.on tells me: “You don’t need to do anything – we’ll write to you if you’re due a refund. If we’ve not refunded your credit balance, we’ll carry this over to your next statement.” I’ve not been contacted.

So that’s alright then? 🙁

Banks use your money which becomes THEIR money while it is deposited —power companies aren’t banks –are they ??

3% interest on credit balances Duncan?
Not to be sneezed at.

Absolutely not. Pity you can’t get an Ovo ISA.

Sounds like promises, promises Wavechange 🙁

Thats why I left SP years ago they kept on increasing the charges till they built up several £100 in credit , and like Wavechange –we will transfer it to your next bill , I complained and left them -1.5 years later they admitted they took too much money and we got ?? £60 back . Calculate the “investment” in interest they made and multiply it by 100,000 of 1000,s as they were doing it to all their customers , new motor cruisers and champers+ Cuban cigars in the Bahamas all round -James turn me around so the sun hits the other side of my body for an even tan.

Scottish Power never sent me an email when they changed my direct debit. As I have reported before, they once increased the payment by about 40% when I was well in credit and put it down again the next month. It was a relief to move to Ovo, who I could not fault and they made it easy to set my own direct debit. I have seen figures for the amount of customers’ money that the energy companies are holding and it is not a small amount.

Surely the best way to prevent power companies from holding onto too much of people’s money maybe they should be made to pay base rate + 5% on anything over 2 months direct debt amount. Of course they’ll need safeguards to ensure people aren’t sneakily adding the odd £20k to their account to get the payout bonus, but I’m sure the people who make the rules up will cater for that.

I’ve switched a few times, one took several months to sort out and was a royal pain and that was with the new switching rules. So I still think more could be done to make switching easier. I’ve successfully managed to switch one neighbour from BG to Sainsburys who told her she wouldn’t be able to use her new smart ( yeah right waste of money devices) monitor but turns out they can. 2 other neighbours haven’t switched , one is afraid of the 3 year fixed fee which she signed up to at the doorstep as she believes the lies SSE would have told her, so one day I’m hoping that exit fees will be a thing of the past.

John says:
24 January 2017

I’d like to ask others about their experience of energy price-comparison websites. I was with e.on and changed to extra energy but they ran up a large credit for themselves so I decided to change. I had trouble changing on-line and so tried by phone. During the course of the conversation I was told (by a Which? operative) that they and all price-comparison websites do not use your actual energy use to determine the offer made, but one based upon “average use”. So, it seems to me that these websites are not actually offering real comparisons. Despite their reportedly bad customer service, I decided to remain with extra energy because I did not feel able to trust the figures given by the price-comparison websites.

My only experience has been with Which?Switch. I have used them to switch, and have also switched directly with a chosen company. I have found them to be excellent. You enter your own actual or estimated usage (look at the last 12 months bills for a good guide) so the costs given are directly based on what you are likely use. I don’t know what other sites do, nor whether Which? included their own site – in which case they have misled you.

I see no point in using any other site than Which?Switch. As far as I know it lists all available offers; some other sites are selective. Go for it – it is online and on phone.

Yes, they ask you to enter your usage, real or estimated but then work on “averages” it would appear from what I was told by a member of WhichSwitch.

Which?Switch does not – they calculate your “real” cost. If in doubt, look at your chosen supplier’s actual tariff (not their tcr / tariff comparison rate which is based on a medium user – is this, perhaps, what you have been looking at?) – unit prices and daily charge, if any, and calculate your annual cost as a check. Give Which?Switch a go would be my suggestion.

Chris Copeland says:
4 February 2017

I’m with Robin Hood Energy – it’s run by Nottingham City Council & is run on a non-profit basis. I live about 20 miles from Nottingham. Every month I submit a reading and the exact amount is taken from my current account. This really suits me . I’ve been with a lot of other companies and I get really good customer service here, better than any of the others. I also think non-profit is a great idea,.

Philvdv says:
5 February 2017

In the Feb 2017 issue of Which? there was an article about Energy supply and switching. One possibility not mentioned in the article, is whereby energy companies enter into a reverse auction on prices with the potential to add many customers to its database. Some local authorities have a scheme whereby residents are asked to register their interest and then they approach the companies to find the cheapest deal. There is no obligation to take up the offer. I myself have signed up to this scheme, but, as there is a limited time to take up the offer, and they are made available only 4 times a year, I would have had to pay an exit fee with my present supplier had I switched at that time. However, there is a possibility I will take this route in the future if an offer coincides with the ending within 49 days of my current agreement as there would be no exit fees payable. Does anyone have any experience of this scheme?

julie says:
9 February 2017

Efficiency and accountability. These companies make mistakes, dont return calls, overcharge, and when you go to the ombudsman, it takes months to sort out and inevitably the result is 50-50 when mistakes are actually the fault of these energy companies. The whole thing is a scam. They are accountable to nobody.

There was another warning today about the future of small energy companies. Many are undercapitalised and only have the funds to buy energy on the spot market. This makes them more competitive than the bigger companies, who buy well ahead, when wholesale prices are low and stable but as soon as there is volatility, and prices start to rise, they do not have the means to remain viable. They will make good profits and then exit the market either by winding up or going bust – like GB Energy. Fortunately the energy companies fund such problems, ensuring customers do not lose money, and provide an alternative supplier without the customer having to do anything.

With the smaller companies often performing better than the big six in terms of customer service I would be sorry to see them go, but obviously all companies have to be viable. Mobile phone service providers are another example of where the little guys tend to attract less criticism than the main companies – the ones that have their own networks. My impression is that smaller companies have to work harder to win and keep our custom.

I suspect many of these small energy companies who buy off-the-shelf billing packages are simply set up to make good profits when wholesale costs are low and stable, but will then exit when that ceases. GB Energy’s spend on a website was queried because of its excessive cost – to an associated company.

The larger companies pay more for energy buy buying ahead but, in doing so, help contain volatile costs.

Who agrees that we should abolish fixed price fixed term energy contracts that are subsidised at the expense of those on standard variable tariffs?

Who agrees with a subsidy to Drax that may well rise to £1 bn a year to burn imported wood pellets?

Do you agree with the Northern Ireland wood pellet subsidy that costs £400M+ and incentivises people to burn pellets unnecessarily? – the subsidy paid is higher than the costs involved http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/business/burning-money-the-rhi-scandal-explained-1-7737428

This is the kind of government/civil service incompetence that we could expend some energy on exploring and criticising.

I no nothing about wood pellets but can see that preserving our coal reserves could help to provide the raw materials for plastics, pharmaceuticals and other essential products for future generations. Whoever wrote the cited article did not think to mention this, but there are many journalists that don’t think about practical and environmental considerations. Hopefully those who make the decisions will be well informed about all the relevant issues.

The problem with wood pellets seems to be they use higher quality timber, we have to import them, and they create lots of carbon dioxide. Those who make decisions seemingly are either not well informed or do not properly use the information they have.

Malcolm Plant says:
22 February 2017

I have been trying to switch to OVO for electricity supply since 17 November last year, after using the Which comparison site. After many phone calls when I was told there was an internal technical problem which was causing difficulties for a number (unspecified) of potential customers.
I was today informed that there was no foreseeable date for solving the problem and I should look elsewhere for supplies. Meanwhile my current supplier has been applying their ‘Standard Price’.
On 16 January I wrote to OVO’s Technology Officer, Mariano Albera, without receiving a reply.
Today I was told that he is no longer with the company. I’m not surprised.

Pat Walmsley says:
3 March 2017

Minimizing climate change is my first priority

D Smith says:
3 March 2017

The big 6 can go throw themsleves off a cliff. I use ECOTRICITY 100% renewable energy.
My main concerns are NOT using fossil fuels AT ALL and NOT continually lining the pockets of the rip off energy providers who do not care 1 iota for thier customers unless it’s to extract thier huge bills from the customer.

Tony O says:
3 April 2017

Scottish Power gets a bad press in your February report. Just under a year ago I switched to SP and got a great deal. The transfer was seamless with support services very good. I suggest you revisit and update your assessment. With prices going up I switched to a new tariff prior to my existing contract expiring in May. The cost is obviously higher but I have a sound contract until January 2019. I recommend that customers check out details more thoroughly and that Which? review this company. Finally, Scottish Power recently installed new smart meters at my premises – once again seamless.

I have been a regular “switcher” of energy suppliers for many years now. My most recent switch (using switch with Which) was to Powershop, which had come out as the most favourable for my annual usage. However, what I didn’t realise was the unbelievable amount of hassle involved. I received a constant stream of emails from Powershop urging me to buy bundles of power for future months, discounted at various different percentages in various different offers. No way that I could see of knowing which to buy to be sure of getting the best price.
So I am off to another supplier (which actually came up cheaper this time) after only 10 weeks, and back onto a fixed amount by direct debit.

Alan Dent says:
6 June 2018

I notice that Flow Energy scores well on customer service. I am moving into a house currently supplied by Flow, and frankly I find their customer service is absolutely apalling. Their website says that they know how stressful moving is and that they make it smooth and easy. Believe me that after the telephone conversations I have had I find myself stressed out and shaking at their uselessness and incompetence, so much so that I will now use a different supplier since Flow have no interest in new customers.