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Vox pops: What would you change about the energy industry?

We’ve been out-and-about on our UK tour to talk to people about their energy-related concerns. From complex bills to huge price rises – here are some of the things people have told us.

You’ve heard us say this before, but the cost of energy is the number one financial concern for UK consumers.

And because we’re campaigning on behalf of everyone across the UK, we want to make sure we’re not just talking to MPs and companies, but also listening to the real problems people are facing.

One way is to listen to your comments here on Which? Conversation, but another is to go out on the streets and talk to people direct.

So, you might have seen our huge neon pound sign (one MP described it as ‘kryptonite’ – think we should take it as a compliment?) out and about in shopping centres around the country – this is where we’ve be asking for your energy concerns and we’ll continue until 18 March.

Steve asks why price cuts take longer than price rises

‘The fluctuation in wholesale prices – the minute they go up the companies put the prices up.

‘Then they take three, six, nine months and whittle away at the price reduction long after the wholesale price has gone down.’

Geoff thinks energy companies create a fog for you to get lost in

‘When you go on the websites or when you investigate the different tariffs they’re far too confusing. As a consequence of that one tends to give up and accept that you may be £50 per year less well-off.

‘There’s a distinctive lack of clarity in the way the whole system works – the way in which the energy companies seem to create a fog which you get lost in and end up paying more money.’

Gary finds energy bills virtually incomprehensible

‘I’m a qualified chartered accountant and I find the bills virtually incomprehensible.

‘So, could you please try to simplify them so that ordinary people can understand the bills and the basis of charging?’

Nikki finds the energy industry confusing

As for me, I’ve got lots of personal gripes about energy companies – I used to be a serial switcher so I’ve had my fair share of experience. But I think my main worry is that it’s so confusing.

I’ve been with Which? for over a year and worked really closely with the campaigns team on energy issues, and there are still so many things that baffle me and have me running to more knowledgeable colleagues in our team shouting ‘why?! I don’t understand!’

One of the common themes coming out of the events is also the lack of clarity in communication. Not just bills, but tariff information and websites – it all seems quite confusing. And that’s just when they tell you about it – one person issued a plea to her energy company:

‘When you change your tariffs to something cheaper – tell me about it!’

So, how about you? Do you agree with the comments above, or have you got other things you’d like to say to the energy industry?


If you change your enery company you might save in the very short term, but they all soon put up their charges and all benefit goes out of the window again!
The power companies should be nationalized. We should not be at the mercy of foreign owned companies and governments.
Tarifs should be simplified and made readily available. A few years ago when I was with Scottish Power I asked for a copy of their Tarifs. I never received one even though it was promised!
Also, after one winter I was told I was around £500.00 in credit. I rang and asked for it to be reinbursed which they didn’t want to do. I asked what interest they planned to pay me. I did get a cheque, but not for the full amount.
The sick and elderly should not be dying in winter due to hypothermia in a first world country such as ours. It is disgraceful and yet successive Governments don’t give a damn1

Alan B says:
15 March 2012

I would like simple tariffs so that I can make a fair judgement of what is my best deal. I am also against the various “lock ins” that companies routinely put on “page 99” of their small print.

So long as you owe nothing, or arrange to settle your bill, there should be no barriers against switching – it should cost no penalty and occur within a maximum peried [eg 14 days]. What happened to the service philosophy of “the client is always right”?

The stake that the French government [or other overseas government] has in energy firms operating in the UK is also a concern – if any government should have a stake it should be the UK’s ….

Bill Smith says:
15 March 2012

Of course the electricity and gas supply industry should be re-nationalised. Once the electricity or gas has been fed into the National Grid no one can identify who generated it when it comes out of the socket or gas burner in your home. Everyone should switch to one supplier and put the others out of business.
I am with the Coop. As a member I get dividend on my bill and a promise to distribute any excess profit to all the members.

Robert Shaw says:
15 March 2012

Scrap windfarms; they are expensive, inefficient and only benefit their builders and the energy companies.

Margaret S says:
15 March 2012

My complaint is about monthly direct debits. When I paid in this way, EON took the amount agreed for a few months, and then informed me that it was going up by a considerable amount, even though when I checked my account, I was several hundred pounds in credit! I refused this increase and eventually went back to quarterly bills (which I also pay by direct debit). At least I now feel that I am not lending them money during the summer months! I think that if a monthly direct debit is set up, it should not be altered for 12 months. It could then be adjusted to take account of the past year’s usage.
Secondly, there are too many alternative tariffs so if you wish to switch, a lot of calculations are required and one gives up in the end. There should be no more than three from each company.

Speak to e.on and discuss the credit balance on your past bills. I have done this and they agreed not to increase my direct debit for the time being. I was only about £100 in credit for the previous two bills.

Ernie Francis says:
15 March 2012

The problems for the consumer as I see them are;

1. We took a nationalised industry and privatised it in the hopes of getting competition and more consumer choice. What I think we have ended up with is a cartel between the six large companies and little or no competition as they all follow each other very closely and in the end you need to constantly switch and chase the lowest of them.

2. We need to have a big reduction in the number of tariffs and also a standard set of measures/units so that we can compare apples with apples.

3. We need very clear billing information once again a standard that they all use. This is not restricted to the energy companies it needs to apply to phone bills and other utility bills.

joyce wiles says:
15 March 2012

comparison sights are to confusing.
No one could possibly understand the way the bill works out what you have used and how it is priced
The bills should be written in a way that is easily understanable, if you ring and ask for an explanation no one in the call centre understands them, they just offer to send an explanation which you still cannot understand. VAT should be removed it is an ourage that it was ever put on something which is an absolute essential to living.
Prepaid meters should be charged at a lower rate, these are used by the most vulnerable people who are already on a low income. In any other trade you get a discount for paying up front.
Please do not write ‘bored of, it is BORED WITH.

Paul says:
15 March 2012

Please don’t write “comparison sights”, it is SITES

Paul says:
15 March 2012

It would be better to go back to a monopoly (like water) to avoid all the confusion. It is unfair that the computer literate get better deals than those who most need to pay least. When the meter readers worked for the supplier it was coordinated and the readers also looked after the suppliers’ interests by checking for fraud.

Peter Matthews says:
15 March 2012

Renationalise all of the utilities. We have been and continue to be taken for a ride in the name of so called competition. Aiming for one body the customers could ensure greater transparency and fair play.

the reason the energy companys make it difficult for us to choose the cheapest tarriffs is simple. if they were forced to have just one tarriff the consumers would be able to see which is the cheapest and the majority would switch to that tarriff. this effect would force the other big five to try and match or undercut said tarriff therefore forcing competition and effecting profit margins by quite a sum . i think their profit margins should be capped with the excess profit ploughed back to the consumer

Kevin Edgar says:
15 March 2012

The energy companies should be legally compelled to provide the same price per unit information for peak and non-peak tariffs, with no low cost break for the initial 160/ 210 or any variant of first units. Also either all or none of them should be allowed to charge standing charges.
This should make comparison simple and put a stop to their deliberate tariff confusion, they should also be compelled to change their tariffs within 2 months of any change in wholesale prices above 5%. This is particularly appropriate for the gas sector as they stockpile reserves when wholesale prices are low and wait till they rise to charge out the same gas at significantly higher rates, thus never passing on the lower rate to consumer.

I find the bills totally incomprehensible. Each company seems to use a different method of measuring gas and electricity and then charging so it is virtually impossible to compare on a like for like basis. Surely it isn’t too much to ask that they all use the same methods.

Renationalisation would be by far the best option so that unfair profits would be a thing of the past. In addition there would be more encouragement to conserve energy and reduce waste. Insulation of homes should be prioritised – and the immense benefits of insulating oneself should be stressed. I’ve just seen yet another news item of someone complaining of being in fuel poverty and wearing only a skimpy blouse. If only people put on more clothes before turning up the heating, both people’s health and purse would benefit, not to mention energy supply security and the environment.

John says:
15 March 2012

Too much money wasted. Last year we had a new mains in our road of about 50 properties. It took about six months with workmen often away for a few days at a time. Our property caused a problem being high off the road: we had around 10 visits to discuss how to get in the new connection and ended up with what I suggested to begin with; use a mole. Trampled all over my garden killing shrubs, lifting parts of my terrace and not replacing properly, digging down right by the cellar and leaving water from the adjacent downpoor diverting into the hole and flooding the cellar. They have had to come back 5 or 6 times and I have told them to give up and let me put things right. At 83 with replacement joints, leukemia, diabetes and a heart disease I can do better than they have.

Next of course we need to destroy all the wind farms and accept the obvious, the weather changes are part of an ongoing pattern that has existed since the earth was born. Scrap “green” taxes, build more gas storage, and bingo the problem is getting easier by the minute. Global warming, now superceded by climate change is just a fraudelent industry taking money from ordinary people to feed an unnecessary industry.

Have to disagree about wind-farms – I honestly believe most people don’t know anything about efficiency – fossil fuels – or electrical generation.

Simply – when wind farms generate ANY power – they are efficient (dynamos are efficient) – AND they REPLACE electricity generated by gas or coal. So SAVE Fuel. Wind is FREE and is pollution FREE. Gas Coal Nuclear are not pollution free (Nuclear needs to get rid of the waste products that remain radioactive for generations)..

So if a wind generator generates 1kWatt for 1p – and a Gas or Coal Power station cost 10p per Kwatt – then the gas generator can go off line saving 9p per kiloWatt without a reduction in overall generation..- AND that gas not used is saved for more generation later when windfarms are not generating. That is exactly why wind farms are supported.

Sadly as an entomologist I have found by personal experience the claims are not fraudulent.

Wind farms are necessary as are other forms of ecological friendly power generation – whereas as fossil fuel power generation is the path to disaster.

Used to work for the CEGB for a short time in power generation.

If wind farms are efficient, why is there a 12% levy on my electricity bill to support them? The only thing they generate efficiently is huge sums of money for rich landowners such as Samantha Cameron’s father.


The levy has little to do with the efficiency of the wind farm – but everything to do with the cost of erecting and running the wind-generator and the cost of the land- space to the landowner – Repeat nothing to do with efficiency of electricity generation.

Why would a land owner GIVE his land to the local Electricity company for free? – Do you think the costs on your bill are ENTIRELY because of the cost of coal or Gas or Nuclear fuel?? You have to pay the costs of building and running the facilities – including the costs of building and maintaining the distribution network. The levy is to pay to encourage the specific building of more wind farms as they are relatively more eco friendly and cheaper to run. That is more efficient. and the fuel (wind) is free forever. They have to be built somewhere – land owner own land – someone has to pay that is the consumer.

If electricity was nationalised – the cost would be across the whole country – as it is it falls on the local electricity board.

So sadly you are wrong – Why do you think there is a subsidy to persuade home owners to erect solar panels on their homes?? Do you think that money comes from some kind donation? It comes from our taxes. Would you pay say £5000 to put a solar panel up if the saving was £50 a year for 100 years or £5000 to erect one if the saving is £500 a year for 10 years.? The same applies to land owners.

You have to pay for ALL the costs involved in supplying your electricity. – As I said many people have little idea on efficiency of generation – only the cost of their bill.

Bud Stanley Buell says:
15 March 2012

Cut the bulls*** on switching supplier and all the confusing tariffs , fancy websites and TV commercials and reward bill payers who have energy efficient property’s and strive to reduce their carbon footprint buy discounts. Times are hard save not squander and reap the rewards.

mike basnett says:
18 March 2012

A substantial part of energy bills is the CO2 or Green levy. This is driving many low income customers into fuel poverty and can be a direct result of fatalities particularly in the vulnerable elderly. The revenue from these levies is used to subsidise projects such as windmills which to put it mildly are of questionable value.
It is also used to subsidise the ‘pay back’ subsidy from the heavily promoted solar panel programme. The very people who need to reduce their energy bills are people least able to find the funds for the installation and, if elderly and do struggle to find the funds, will never get their money back. A recently reported case was a 74 year old man who paid £13000 for the installation and was pleased he had halved his electricity bill. If it is assumed he has saved £250 per annum it would take him 52 years to recover his investment. Another case of miss-selling??

Frank Mackie says:
19 March 2012

The sheer number of different tariffs are mind numbing. All you need are perhaps 3 – online, standard and prepayment. It seems to be policy that the more you can confuse customers the better. Despite the Government saying they will force companies to make things easy there is no real sign of it happening.

Shaz says:
20 March 2012

All the utility companies should be re-nationalised along with Public transport. That would do away with shareholder greed and dividends pushing prices up and up.

100% in agreement.
What was the point of Agincourt, if we have now surrendered our utilities to the French.
What was the point of WW2 when Germany and the Vichey French now control Europe.

How our leaders fail us

G6JPG says:
22 March 2012

ITEMISED BILLS PLEASE. By which I mean: show how much I’m paying for:
o the gas or electricity
o the standing charge (don’t hide it in a two-level tariff; have a low-user rebate instead)
o the NON-direct-debit SURCHARGE (especially if I want to pay by standing order)
o possibly, the green levy, though I’m not that bothered about that (I approve of green attempts, even if some of them aren’t effective).

If bills were itemised like this, there’d not be need for so many tariffs.