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Would you switch to a smaller energy provider?

Customers of medium or smaller energy providers are more satisfied overall than those with the ‘Big Six’. Should you switch to a smaller provider?

A quarter of us are now customers of energy firms which aren’t the original ‘Big Six’. Some of these newer and smaller firms offer fantastic service, while a few are seriously letting customers down.

The recently-published results of our annual energy companies satisfaction survey revealed the best energy firms, according to their customers, as well as the ones to avoid. (Full results for Northern Ireland can be found here.)

Top scorers

The top-scorers were Octopus Energy, Ebico, Robin Hood Energy, So Energy and Tonik Energy. The worst supplier overall was Solarplicity. Spark Energy was the second-lowest ranked.

What do all of these have in common? They’re new, relatively small (at least in comparison to the Big Six), energy firms. A couple are not-for-profit. A couple sell only 100% renewable electricity.

Overall, we found that customers of medium or smaller energy providers are more satisfied with them, and rate them better on everything from customer service to bills to value for money, than customers of the Big Six.

Which? Switch: compare gas and electricity prices

But it’s not as simple as switching from the Big Six to get better service or prices.

Smaller suppliers are streets apart in how well they serve their customers: some are top of our rankings, others are seriously letting their customers down. Plus several have gone bust, and many have raised their prices. So choosing a supplier can feel a bit of a minefield at the moment.


Over the last four years, I have been a customer of four different gas and electricity suppliers. I’ve tried Big Six, medium-sized, and most-recently a smaller, newer market entrant.

My current, smaller, supplier doesn’t offer a breakdown of my energy usage via an online account, unlike my previous supplier. Perhaps it’s too new to have built this, undoubtedly expensive, feature yet.

But I never actually saw the fancy offering from my previous supplier: it wasn’t able to fix my online account login issues in the six months I spent as a customer.

It also doesn’t have answers to any question you might have on its website, ready and waiting for when you need help at 11pm on a Sunday.

Simple things

But what it does do is respond to my emails (usually within a day), answer my questions precisely and does what it says it’s going to do.

These are simple and basic things but mean I feel friendly towards my supplier, rather than frustrated.

Revealed: the fastest energy firms to answer the phone

Plus I’m never in doubt that my bills are accurate or worried that I’ll have to pay more than I expect. It prompts me to send meter readings every month, and gives me a few days warning before it takes my direct debit.

I can enter my meter readings online (no more using up my minutes phoning in my meter readings). Again, simple things, but certainly reassuring.

I can’t promise I’ll stick with my smaller supplier for the long-term but, for the moment, what it lacks in fancy features it more than makes up for in getting the basics spot-on.

Have you switched to a smaller energy company? What differences have you noticed? What do you like about its service and what do you miss?


Another small energy company has gone bust according to this Which? press release:

Which? responds as Brilliant Energy ceases trading
11 March 2019
Sarah Threadgould, Which? Chief Customer Officer, said:

“The collapse of energy firms is becoming far too commonplace and consumers must not be made to shoulder the costs for these failures. It is vital for the regulator to press ahead with measures to ensure that current and future suppliers are financially sustainable and able to deliver excellent customer service.

“Ofgem must ensure a smooth transition for those customers affected. People should not let energy suppliers going bust put them off shopping around for a better deal. Once affected customers have been moved to a replacement supplier, switching is still by far the best way to find a company that offers good customer service – and you could save more than £300.” https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-responds-as-brilliant-energy-ceases-trading/

It seems that this company was struck of on 21 August 2018, so why has it been able to continue trading. The 17,000 customers will not lose out but it is yet to be announced which company will take over. Nothing in the filing history for Brilliant Energy suggests to me that it might be a viable company: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/07283391/filing-history

As Which? has stated, Ofgem must do its homework and decide if companies are likely to be sustainable and cope, for example, with a significant rise in wholesale prices of energy. Surely this is obvious. We have now had about ten small energy companies fail and I wonder if Ofgem is fit to do the job. Perhaps the effectiveness of regulators needs to be assessed.


Ofgem were wrong to allow so many entrants into the energy marker without them demonstrating financial resilience. There were over 60 at one count. I believe some of this were opportunists, taking money out of the business before it failed in inappropriate ways. Some were no doubt naive. Some are run by local authorities, providing them with bail outs, by people who do not have business acumen; they, too, would have otherwise gone broke.

Some fail because their fixed price deals become unsupportable when wholesale costs rise beyond what was envisaged, and the company does not have the resources to buy energy ahead to protect against that.

Unfortunately, suggesting that “consumers must not be made to shoulder the costs for these failures.” would leave the deprived customers with their account credits lost; a failed supplier will not return those. So all consumers will pay through their energy bills.

Ofgem some while ago were changing the terms of licensing new entrants so hopefully this problem will go into decline. It does not seem possible to deal with the present incumbents; there will, no doubt, be a process of natural selection but at cost to us all.

So, is Ofgem fit to to their job? As you say, we all contribute to the cost of failure. I hope that Ofgem is monitoring the performance of all companies in the market to look for signs of potential trouble.

Which? has rightly been critical of larger energy suppliers for poor service. It’s well established that some companies have allowed some customers to build up large credit balances. I have had this problem with Scottish Power and e.on, and judging by comments on various Convos this is not uncommon. I wonder why Ofgem has not stepped in to put an end to this practice.

I’m very grateful that we do have regulators but perhaps their effectiveness needs to be assessed.

Maybe the regulators need a …..regulator? They act on behalf the government and presumably are scrutinised by select committees.

“Ofgem is the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets. We are a non-ministerial government department and an independent National Regulatory Authority, recognised by EU Directives. Our principal objective when carrying out our functions is to protect the interests of existing and future electricity and gas consumers………

Our governing body is the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority ………

The Authority members are appointed by the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and include five Non-Executive Directors………

The Authority’s powers and duties are largely provided for in statute (such as the Gas Act 1986, the Electricity Act 1989, the Utilities Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Energy Acts of 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011) as well as ruling European Community legislation in respect of energy regulation.

The smaller energy companies rely almost entirely on household customers and do not have the ballast of commercial, industrial and public service customers which provide greater stability for forward procurement and usually have long-term contracts. Household customers are more prone to switching when they see a better price or their existing supplier increases the tariff so there is more volatility at the smaller end of the market. Ofgem should be factoring this into their appraisal process when judging resilience.

The intro says “The top-scorers were Octopus Energy, Ebico, Robin Hood Energy, So Energy and Tonik Energy.

Robin Hood Energy is “run” by Nottingham city council, and, in the past, it has been reported they injected money more than once to keep it afloat. According to a report in Private Eye (8-18th April), it has tried to adopt perhaps less acceptable tactics (for a council run operation) to grow its business. It acts as a white label supplier to a number of other councils who use it to market their own energy. It proposed offering new customers better (loss making) deals than given to existing customers. As they claim they make no profit and no demands on the taxpayer it is concluded that their existing customers would subsidise this tactic. When uncovered, the plan was quietly dropped.

Maybe we should look harder into all these energy companies when recommending them? I’m all for taking advantage of the best deals on offer but I’d like to see all these deals as genuine commercial offerings where taxpayer’s money is involved.

I’d definately rate Ebico as a “don’t buy” supplier.

Having recently switched to Ebico (or tried too) I’m really surprised to see them in a list of satisfaction survey top-scorers.

In my case, Ebico were unable to make good their offer to take over my gas supply and were almost impossible to contact, when I needed to sort out the resulting mess.

In contrast, my other supplier, Scottish Power were easy enough to phone and their conduct was smart and professional.

When I was with Scottish Power they doubled my direct debit, even though I was well in credit – without even sending an email to tell me. Yes they were easy to phone and I had to do that a few times because they kept pushing up my direct debit when there was no need. I’m not surprised that SP remains near the bottom of the Which? list for customer satisfaction. I had not chosen to become an SP customer but they had been selected as supplier for a collective switching scheme run by the council.

I’m happy with my present supplier and have not had to phone them to complain about anything. They do not keep me well in credit because they would have to pay me interest if they did.

I’m with SP; sent my meter readings in a couple of days ago and the same day they recalculated my account and increased my DD by about 8% (after a reduction earlier in the year) to keep pace with my predicted use. They seem to be on the ball.

I’ve switched suppliers a number of times and SP have always been easy to deal with, helpful on the phone (they have a call back timed service if they are busy) and respond to emails.

You and Derek have had good experiences but mine seems to be in line with the findings of Which?

With my present supplier my balance is £70.12, my projected cost for the month is £56.22 and if I want to decrease my monthly payment from £65 I can do it in less time than it took me to write this. I will alter it when I receive an email saying that the next statement is available. I’m in control and don’t need to contact customer service.

If I become disappointed with my current energy supplier I will consider smaller energy companies, but not before checking to see what Which? and others have to say and checking the company’s annual accounts. I know that customers have not lost out when small companies have gone bust but I would rather not take the risk of being dumped with a company with a poor reputation.

If Ofgem monitors the financial stability of suppliers, perhaps action will be taken before another small company goes bust.

Looking at the Which? results I wonder at their basis.
– I send meter readings in regularly when SP email me to request them (monthly) and my bill is updated. It is accurate. So when they get 2* for bill accuracy I wonder quite how this happens? Is it done on estimates because customers do not submit readings?
– I have used their phone service (they offer call back at a specified time) and email a number of times and received prompt and useful responses. So customer service is based on what? 2*? Not for me.
– Value for money 3*. They are not the cheapest but I do not like small energy suppliers with an unknown track record who may well be cheaper. Out of the known suppliers I got a good fixed price tariff from SP and am happy with my compromise.

As for Ebico (not for profit??) given 5* for value for money; well, they are 15% more expensive than my SP tariff given a 3*. How does that make sense?

I suggest all this information needs to be treated with a good deal of caution. Sort out your best deal (for your criteria) by looking at all companies online. Which?Switch works well for me.

I change my energy supplier fairly regularly & was with One Select who went out of business in mid December 2018. I was told my supply had been moved to Together Energy (who I’d never heard of) but was not given any information about their tariff etc. It took until 27/02/19 (75 days) to get a final bill for my One Select account & I then immediately changed to Bulb.

I did not get my final bill from Together Energy until 17/04/19 & was horrified at how much more it was than I had expected. When I compared it with my old One Select tariff it was £55 more for the 75 days, an increase of 28.7%. I am owed a refund of £31.09 which I have not received yet.

It seems very wrong that customers should be penalised in this way when their supplier goes out of business; is it possible to change to a supplier of the customer’s choice immediately? Perhaps I shouldn’t have waited the 75 days for the final bill for my failed supplier.

When you select a cheap energy supplier you do take a risk on the sustainability of their business, as we have seen from the clutch of failures over the last 15 months – 10 so far. As most people will have selected them online the switch to another supplier should be easy; you don’t have to take the “supplier of last resort” that agrees to take on the customers but I think it helps with the initial changeover and refund. You can then switch to another chosen supplier.

Which? recently published this:

”as is the nature with human stories, we have to pick a few.

A couple of days ago I had an email from npower to tell me “my payment scheme was cancelled” and I would receive quarterly bills instead of a monthly direct debit. That evening I emailed their complaints department and received an immediate acknowledgement with a complaints reference. I phoned them the following morning to follow up my query, got through to a helpful person straight away who looked it up, said it was an automated email sent because my fixed price electricity deal had ended and I’d changed suppliers but my gas contract was still intact. Had I received an email that morning? It said all had been restored and the problem was resolved.

There are frequent criticisms of energy companies’ customer service, no doubt rightly so. However here is a “human story” that shows, in my view, pretty good service. Just to add balance. One swallow does not make a summer – but neither does it make a winter. ”

It might be good if, sometimes, more positive experiences were published by Which? instead of negative ones. But then we Brits are a nation of moaners, according to the Daily Star (so must be right) 15/12/2014: ” Britain is a nation of moaners who complain more than 70 times a week each“.

I guess Which? Conversation is one of the biggest continuous and regular receptacles of moans with appeals for more added every day.

I switched to OVO last year – now the contract’s up for renewal and they’ve increased their rate and won’t drop it. Bizarre that these company’s don’t want to retain customers. Looks like we might switch to Bulb.

With rising prices and considerable uncertainty of what is going to happen after Brexit, many companies have raised their prices. Some of the smaller companies have ceased to trade because they were offering unsustainably low prices. The latest was Solarplicity. What happens when a supplier fails is that their customers are transferred to another company and customers have no choice in which one they are assigned to. My Ovo contract is coming to an end and the cheapest option is Outfox the Market, but I am not going to take the risk. I have thought about Bulb but their latest accounts do not inspire me with confidence.

They rely on apathy and inertia. Switching is the only way to make your point. I hope Bulb is satisfactory for you.

Once you start using fixed price fixed term contracts you know that each year you will need to set up a new one, or default to a standard variable tariff. Even with your existing supplier you’ll need to set up a new contract. There are around 50 energy suppliers to choose from – far too many in my view – and Which? Switch makes it very easy to look at predicted costs from all of them, based on your estimated usage. You cannot expect your present supplier to remain the most competitive so shopping around and, if worthwhile, switching, is the sensible way to deal with it. We shop around for many things, given the power of the net, and energy is no different; it helps us make savings – or mitigate increases.

I have said before that all fixed price deals should be profitable for the supplier, In the past the evidence is they have used (high cost) standard variable tariffs to subsidise fixed term deals and that is wrong. The price cap introduction has seen many fixed price deals increase significantly in cost, proof of previous subsidy in my view. Ofgem should deal with that.

Ofgem should also look much harder at these small suppliers and whether they have a business model robust enough to trade long term. They can take advantage of low wholesale costs to put attractive packages together for short term gain, and when the going gets tough just go out of business, pocketing their profits leaving consumers to pick up the bill.

What happens when a supplier fails is that their customers are transferred to another company and customers have no choice in which one they are assigned to. “. The transfer is temporary to ensure you have continuity of supply (and payment). You are quite free to shop around for a better deal and switch to the supplier of your choice.

Ofgem have agreed to looking closely at new energy companies in the light of multiple failures. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/energy-suppliers-tests-ofgem-rules-licence-regulations-a8864931.html This should have been done years ago.

Switching services are useful for comparing prices but they charge for their service if you go ahead and this charge is shared by all customers. I prefer to go to the new service provider and they will handle the switch without this fee.

We shouldn’t have had a Brexit referendum years ago. We can all benefit from hindsight but we are where we are. Which? News frequently look at the 5 cheapest energy deals and Outfox the Market figures in July. However, looking at comments made on a number of review sites suggests that while customer service os poor, so is the way they handle their pricing, and the way they make changes. No mention of this.

While it is fair to publish the cheapest deals there should be some impartial critical analysis of the provider to help customers decide whether they want to join. Which? could also look at the financial standing of the supplier. I suppose the stance is that if you join a dodgy supplier and it goes t**s up you won’t lose any money – other customers will bail you out (credit balance) and Ofgem will find another supplier. So it may be a bad decision without responsibility. I’m not sure this is a good approach.

I’d like to see one national price comparison and switching service that covers all suppliers and all tariffs that is free to use and free of any hidden charges when you switch. Why do we need competing services? I hesitate to suggest Ofgem could run this but……..

I think despite their obligation to promote competition Ofgem’s principal function is to regulate the energy market in the interests of consumers and the nation. In my view they would be absolutely the right people to provide a trustworthy price comparison and switching service.

The present model is parasitic and inefficient and there is always the suspicion that they are only interested in capturing more personal data from each enquirer to enhance their scope and volume into other comparisons [car insurance, broadband, etc] so that they can cross-sell their customer relationships and procure higher commissions. Or have I misunderstood something here?

Which? subscribers can see the results of a survey of energy companies: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/energy-companies/article/best-and-worst-energy-companies/which-energy-survey-results

Looking at the full results, the survey seems to have been done in 2018 and there may have been changes. Clicking on the name of each company provides further information about the supplier.

I’m suggesting relevant information should be attached to, or linked to, the publicised deals. And it is no good unless it is up-to-date; Outfox the Market has seen significant changes and complaints since 2018.

Yes, I’ve expressed my concerns about Outfox the Market. It’s still there and I hope it survives but maybe a little caution is needed. It’s not mentioned in the Which? survey.


Among the “Cheapest tariffs from the highest-ranked energy firms” is one from Robin Hood Energy. RHE is a supplier owned by Nottingham City Council, and paying 11 other councils for referring local customers to it. It appears to have cash flow problems – it has asked the council (i.e. council tax payers) for increased financial support three times in the last year, apparently. But, like other failed suppliers, it is said to be “wilfully sitting on customers’ money earmarked for the “green” and social schemes financed through our energy bills”.

This money amounts to around 20% of an average bill and funds renewable energy, subsidises elderly and poor consumers, and so on. Money that is simply collected like a tax to give to the government for these objectives.

A high ranking energy firm? Like others that have already gone out of business I think some background research into recommended suppliers would be useful.

An odd coincidence – Which? issued the following press release today –

There is no link to the source of what Ofgem proposes, but that is nothing new. So easy to include a link so that Members, and others, who are interested in what has been said, and what Which? is basing its release in, can find out.

Here is one link:
Relevant to my comment above https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/smaller-energy-provider-switch/#comment-1578122 part of the Ofgem proposal is:
“Suppliers would be required to put in place arrangements to ensure that they would be able to cover a proportion of customers’ credit balances and government environmental scheme costs if they failed.“. A few energy suppliers might find this a little worrying.

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, Evening Jon. Something Which? might comment on? Although maybe I’m slow and this is common knowledge. Or maybe just a quirk with my supplier.

Each year I take out a new 12 month fixed price energy contract, switching supplier if necessary. I look at prices on Which? Switch but normally switch directly with the supplier.

This year my current supplier came out sufficiently competitive, so I decided to stay. I went to them, couldn’t find the same deal so spoke to them. They gave me the best deal they could offer which was more expensive and told me I’d have to switch through the comparison site. They explained (not sure of the detail) that comparison sites often get better offers to market than the suppliers offer direct.

Went back to the Which?Switch site – no means to switch. Phoned Which? Switch – “we can’t switch you to this tariff because you are an existing customer”.

Back to my current supplier. Never heard of that; do it through USwitch. A slightly cheaper tariff still and easily switched.

I find this a very curious and disturbing state of affairs. Particularly as, in this instance, the cheapest supplier’s 12 month contract was 31% more expensive than the one they had on USwitch, and which I took up.

Perhaps there needs to be a comparison site for comparison sites…

My naive understanding of energy comparison sites was they displayed all, or most, of the available tariffs to save me having to trawl through each supplier separately to establish the best deal. I expect them to make their money by commission. I did not expect them to have their own exclusive deals to offer that beat tariffs direct from the supplier. That is what I would like Which? to comment on.

I agree. If they are going to show ‘exclusive’ deals, or not present the available range of tariffs, then I believe there should be a notice to that effect. The whole business of switching, money-saving and getting the most suitable terms relies on transparency. Ofgem should make that a pre-condition. This shows that the comparison sites and the energy companies are not as independent of each other as the public are led to believe. The comparison sites have forced themselves into the energy market, which is not wrong if customers can get a better deal but it is unfair on people who look to see what their existing supplier can offer if approached directly. Companies doing secret deals with comparison sites is not in the public interest in my view.

As I’ve mentioned before, price comparison sites don’t provide price comparison with collective switching schemes run by councils. I signed up for one of these and it was a good deal. The problem of these schemes is that when you sign up, the energy supplier is unlikely to be known.

We often discuss the benefits of buying British. Since privatisation, our energy industry is increasingly run by other countries. I suggest it might be worth bearing this in mind when choosing an energy supplier and not just when buying fruit & veg.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’ve come out better so far on one year contracts than if I’d taken out longer ones – I believe. I was surprised my current supplier came out so well. But it had also bothered me that the Which? site gave problem.

I pay monthly direct debit and my supplier has automatically adjusted the dd when appropriate.

I decided to renew for two years. With my supplier I can set my direct debit, whereas when I was with ‘big six’ companies, they set it and I had to ask for it to be reduced because of a large credit balance. They always complied with my requests but it was a nuisance to have to ask.

I’m more concerned about council tax, but that’s a topic for a different Convo.


– a Which? report on their news web pages that seems to heavily feature Robin Hood Energy –shown as a “not for profit company”.

Well, that’s true, according to reports in Private Eye. Since its set up by Nottingham City Council in 2015 it appears to have had to take £50m from them to support its losses. It is also reported that, to help fund its activities, it has been withholding “statutory social and environmental levies” raised from its customers.

So it seems RHE is subsidising all its customers from council tax payers and money’s that should be remitted as levies. Robin Hood allegedly took from the rich to give to the poor……..

I wonder if Which? examines the credentials of the companies they report on?


One swallow certainly does not make a summer, but it is worth noting.

I buy my energy from one of the big suppliers. I switched to a very competitive tariff without any problems at all, through uswitch. I pay by monthly fixed direct debit based on last year’s usage and provide meter readings monthly. I also use a spreadsheet to track usage and cost and flag up under or over payment.

The most recent time I put in my meter readings, my bill was calculated and confirmed I was substantially in credit. I was happy to note that and content that the credit might be used if the mild winter turned nasty. In checking my recent bank account, I noted the balance was higher than expected and saw that this was because a credit had been received from my energy supplier. I was even more happy that they did this without being asked; the only improvement, perhaps, would have been if they had also sent me an email to let me know – but I’m not marking them down for that.

So, I am quite happy, so far, with the way my bottom-of-the-table supplier performs.

The debate seems to have gone quiet but I would like to add my experience of attempting to switch electricity suppliers after comparing them using the Which Switch site. On 26/10/2020 I initiated a switch to Green Network Energy choosing the “Sturgeon” tariff as shown by the Which site search.
On 20/11/2020 I received an email saying that the switch could not take place because of PSR reasons (I am deaf) asking me to log on to their website again. The site did not recognise my previous user name and requested creation of a new account.
I found that the Sturgeon tariff is no longer listed and the one being quoted was no longer competitive. Why being deaf should cancel my switch is a mystery to me. However, the Which switch site still displays Green’s Sturgeon tariff. Because of the delay in Green contacting me I now have to pay my current supplier’s variable rate until I can find a supplier who I can trust.


Having read back through the thread from malcolm r’s post of 16 November 2019 I see the problem of finding different offers from various switching sites makes the job of finding the best offer arbitrary unless one is prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the web. Uswitch has the same updated offer from Green Network Energy as found by going directly to their website while signing up can be done through the Uswitch site, this cannot be done at the Which site.
I am not sure whose responsibility it should be to inform switching sites with the latest details; does Which regularly contact suppliers or do they wait for them to inform of any changes?

I believe we should have one independent switching service that lists every available tariff and does not receive commissions. It seems quite wrong that we complain about energy prices and then allow huge, and unjustifiable, differences between offers particularly when these switchers make their own commercial arrangements with a supplier. Why is it I got a tariff through Which?, then latterly USwitch, that was 31% less than my supplier offered direct?

Tariffs will differ between suppliers for all sorts of reasons. However it is time that standard variable tariffs were stopped from subsidising others, such as fixed term ones. The difference in prices does not, from my previous calculations, seem to be at all justified. I would hope Which? would investigate this whole market. Energy is an essential commodity and too important to be subject to marketing ploys, special deals and commissions.

Around 410,000 energy customers will be moved to new providers after Green Network Energy and smaller firm Simplicity Energy stopped trading.

”Green Network Energy ranked reasonably well in our latest energy company satisfaction survey, where it finished in joint-10th position. Launched in 2016, it had around 360,000 customers

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/02/green-network-energy-stops-trading/ – Which?

Can Which? do more to look into the stability of smaller energy suppliers before they recommend them to consumers?