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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?

Comments
CSE, Bristol says:
9 March 2012

Lot’s of people we speak to find their energy bills ‘incomprehensible’ which is why we added these pages to our website:
http://www.cse.org.uk/understanding-your-electricity-bill
http://www.cse.org.uk/understanding-your-gas-bill
Downloadable leaflets also available.
Hope this helps

Alan says:
9 March 2012

Energy companies are making excuses that the Governments commitment to these absurd, hideous wind farms are the cause of high energy charges and as usual that is a ridiculous excuse for such high charges to the consumer.These Wind Farms are not only unsightly and a blight on the countryside, but they also cause more damage to the environment than fossil fuels ever did.

I think the energy industry should be nationalised

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 March 2012

Totally agree.

Mike says:
14 March 2012

Note: EDF is a French national government owned corporation.

Until November 19, 2004, EDF was a state-owned corporation, but it is now a limited-liability corporation under private law (société anonyme), after its status was changed by statute. The French government partially floated shares of the company on the Paris Stock Exchange in November 2005, although it retained almost 85% ownership as of the end of 2008.
Source – Wikipedia
Since EDF is state owned, the French government will arguably have more control over energy prices in this country than our own government. Ownership of the biggest eight companies in the British energy market will comprise 34 per cent British, 32 per cent French, 27 per cent German, and 7 per cent Spanish.
Source: Independent Thursday 25 September 2008

It used to be nationalised, I worked for it (the CEGB) and I totally agree. Privatisation has in most cases (if not all) been to the consumers detriment, with fragmentation, duplication, obfuscation and, worst of all, no overall energy policy. The CEGB used to do the planning and the National Grid was part of it with all the distribution companies local to the area. I certainly do not remember the plethora of tariffs that now confuse us so much.
Mike’s comment are apposite, we did not protest much at privatisation, it was regarded as interfering in political decisions, although my trade union (the EPEA) did make all sorts of predictions regarding the future of the industry which have, in great part, come true. The French power workers on the other hand threatened to shut the whole of France down if their industry was privatised some 15 – 20 years ago and their government would not face this threat and backed down. It has taken until now for anything to happen and even now it is still state controlled.

Twizla says:
9 March 2012

I got home last night to my gas statement saying I was still in credit (I have been £135 in credit throughout the winter) and am now £30.00 in credit. This is good news I thought – no? I then turned to page two to find they are increasing my monthly direct debit payments by £5.00 a month! British Gas – seriously?

You’re lucky – I was in credit too with EDF – but they decided to DOUBLE my monthly direct debit – until I got in touch and became rather aggressive – They said they’d send a letter of apology – they didn’t – but they did remove the increase.

I’m not sure about nationalisation. I am used to having electricity each day of the week.

Actually – I’ve never experienced a stoppage of water or gas or electricity since around the 1940s due to the war – It didn’t change much when the services were DE-nationalised. Except the prices rose rapidly. I have never lost any service for more than an hour or so due to very localised repairs – and those stoppages are very very rare. Where do you live? I’m in London.

Nationalisation puts all the eggs in one basket, leaving us at greater risk of industrial action. I don’t think the energy industry is a good example of the benefits of private enterprise but I believe that we would have been worse off if they were still nationalised.

We are both entitled to our views.

It used to be nationalised, I worked for it (the CEGB) and I totally agree. Privatisation has in most cases (if not all) been to the consumers detriment, with fragmentation, duplication, obfuscation and, worst of all, no overall energy policy. The CEGB used to do the planning and the National Grid was part of it with all the distribution companies local to the area. I certainly do not remember the plethora of tariffs that now confuse us so much.
Mike’s comment are apposite, we did not protest much at privatisation, it was regarded as interfering in political decisions, although my trade union (the EPEA) did make all sorts of predictions regarding the future of the industry which have, in great part, come true. The French power workers on the other hand threatened to shut the whole of France down if their industry was privatised some 15 – 20 years ago and their government would not face this threat and backed down. It has taken until now for anything to happen and even now it is still state controlled.
In all of the 34 years I worked in the industry as a trade union member, the EPEA never called a strike, in fact our national agreement had a no strike clause written into it. Far from being prone to unreliable supply, the Nationalised industry ‘kept the lights on’ through all sorts of difficult times, particularly during troubles with the miners. The employees worked for an industry that was an essential part of modern life and took a pride in it, profit was either used to finance further development or when the government saw how profitable the industry had become, they took a slice of it.

Lin Costella says:
14 March 2012

Too many tariffs, incomprehensible bills and no clarity.

Clear these issues up and the energy companies would be halfway there to pleasing their customers. Lower their prices significantly and you will have the happiest customers ever!

lancasterchelsea says:
14 March 2012

The energy market is not competitive. Make switching instant… it can be done…. and semi automatic. In other words create a system that tracks the market and switches you automatically every 6 months… in minutes. The actual elapsed/real time it takes to switch someone is seconds… so why does it take 4 weeks or so.
Most important of all create another 10 to 20 companies selling energy

Andy says:
14 March 2012

I would like to see the energy companies to be re-nationalised, as they should be, as all the (competition) does is complicate things, make money for investors and hike up the prices to falsely high rates. Not that I would trust the current government or the last. to be fair with us, but at least it would be simpler and less confusing. Same should apply to gas and the railways etc. That’ll be the day eh?

john christmas says:
14 March 2012

I feel that ALL the energy companies are a consortium-all prices go up very quickly but NEVER come down as quick-government any government will do nothing,the more the price goes up ,the more tax they get. £200 plus per bill is a “Green” tax;paying for all these USELESS turbines-the companies putting them up, even get paid when there NOT working! and in America there is a movement against the turbines because of all the birds they kill! It’s all a prime rip-off racket,with government nodding and giving the wink to the energy companies. I DONT BELIEVE ANYONE OR ANY COMPANY!

David says:
14 March 2012

I think that all utilities should be Nationalised.
Although I am a staunch believer in free enterprise, this is one area I feel should be affordable to all and run not for profit. Any money made should only be for reinvestment into these industries for new infastructure and better technology, not for lining the pockets of the rich.
Everyone relies on the main big utilities and should be able to access them at a fair and reasonable price.
Lets face it, for a lot of people affordability could be a matter of life or death.

Fred says:
14 March 2012

Standardise so that it is easier to compare them For example make hours at which tariffs cut-in start and finish at the same time, or the point at which a different kwh rate becomes operative In that last example perhaps insist energy companies instead have to charge a fixed amount – to be determined by themselves – for a particular energy source and thereafter just one single kwh rate ?
And why just because I am a Manchester Utd supporter or a member of the National Trust I should get be able to access a different tariff is completely lost on me !
It seems to me that so much energy must be exercised creating these schemes we seem to have ‘lost the plot’ when all consumers want is a reasonable price and an understandable bill

angela phelps says:
14 March 2012

If companies are to have two tiered pricing ,the cheaper tariff should be charged first and be for the same amount of fuel for all utility companies.This would make comparisons much easier and stop the small user being charged proportionately more than the big user.

rob price says:
14 March 2012

we were phoned and convinced to change . also told just ignore the others requests to come back. but they offered a new better tarrif so we changed back .Then we were told we had topay two lots of 30 as we had cancelled outside the time limit . this is not on the two companies concerned should have paid it between them. as they caused it. my wife wears hearing aids and fells rhe pressure is on more than i do . but they even convinced me .im so very annoyed with all this .when can we get bsck to a decent fair system . its rip of after rip off . goverment at it too.
rob .Devon

Firstly to say that I have always had excellent support from customer services at my supplier EON, and I don’t let them get ahead of me on payments vs usage. Calculate what is reasobale to pay vs current tariffs and tell them. They always accept this from me.
Secondly my utilities bill is full of useful information if I take the trouble to read it. I think companies are unjustly criricised when you look at how much they have improved. Energy is a little complex but no worse than learning how to use a smartphone.
The real issue is the level of charges. We must depend on the regulator to do a better job of controlling suppliers and encouragng real competition.

We must also stop to government supporting bad technology like windfarms – politically appealing but really bad as all the investment has to be duplicated in non wind resources for whenm the wind does not blow. Invest in good quality nuclear power adequately engineered for the full life of a station. Engineers know how to do it, they are just not given the resources to do it properly.

The cheapest, so-called SOCIAL TARIFFS for the long term sick and the poorest are not published. This means that those who might benefit don’t know about them: I’m not sure how you get on them. It also means that the comparison websites do not have access to them: when you do get on one, all they will say is, “You are getting OUR cheapest tariff.” But you cannot compare them with other suppliers to see if there is a better deal.

M. Owens says:
14 March 2012

The energy network should never have been privatised – it used to be run for the benefit of the consumer, now it is run solely to benefit the shareholders – the only answer is to re-nationalise.

I all who can changed their light bulbs to led it would save individuals a lot of money as they cost very little to run. At the moment the bulbs are expensive to buy but taking into account the cost of replacing bulbs including halogen bulbs they do not take long to pay for themselves. The consumers association could make this one of their campaigns and if many more people bought them the cost wou;ld come down substantially. We have changed most of our lighting and are seeing our electricity consumption reduce. We also use a halogen worktop oven which cost under £30 for most things that can be grilled roasted or heated up and use much less electricity.

goldford says:
14 March 2012

In my case, the process of switching from eon to EDF has been hideously complicated. I’ve sent / received over 40 emails so far and the payments have still not been set up correctly!

I also agree with other people’s comments. Bills are almost incomprehensible. How can it be that when I owe some money to a supplier, this appears as a positive rather than negative figure on my account. Co-op energy seems to provide a much clearer bill than most others.

John says:
14 March 2012

I am a single disabled person living near the bread line, as do many people especially our pensioners, I have to buy my electricity and gas by pre payment card and key as I fear a large bill every few months, but because of this I have to pay a higher rate than those people who can pay buy direct debit and also with my phone provider there is a premium for not paying by dd even though I pay by online banking, It seems that those with money make money from those who don’t have enough, this year I’ve had to go without food in order to buy gas for heating,m last year I treied to balance the two and ended up in hospital for a month because of it, there are many other people like myself who risk our health to keep warm and every time we get kicked in the teeth by the big companys who could initiate some form of means testing for us in order to give us lower prices, we could also benefit from some intervention by our government who seem content to sit back and let it happen. although they are quite happy to collect our taxes (they even tax my meagre income). If I didn’t have children in this country I would cheerfully move abroad somwhere they look after their people not bring them down.
Please note these are my personal views and may not be agreed by others

I don’t understand what the problem is with reading a company’s bill. I’m with EDF and their bill is easy to understand.
Tariffs, now that is difficult to understand. Why do we need so many ? What is their purpose ? When I do a comparison I want to find the cheapest supplier, that’s all that matters. It’s supposed to be about competition, all I can see is a cartel with the consumer being the loser. Mind you , the consumer is always the loser.
This country is gradually being taken over by companies originating outside the UK and eventually we will have no home grown businesses at all.
Join the Which campaign fighting for domestic fuel and the Fairfuel campaign for motoring fuel.