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Nick Boles MP: is switching painful or painless for you?

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Do you regularly switch energy supplier, bank or mobile provider? Or are you held back? Here’s Nick Boles MP on why the Government’s working to improve switching.

Let’s face it, switching suppliers is often a nightmare.

I recently tried to switch gas and electricity suppliers. I went onto a price comparison website and found a new supplier who it appeared would save me hundreds of pounds a year. I was told I’d hear from them within a few days. But months later, I hadn’t heard a dicky bird and was still paying over the odds for my heating and light.

I then had to go through the whole process again. Only this time, thanks to the persistence of someone at the website’s call centre, it finally worked.

Six switching principles

Everyone has a horror story to tell of trying to change banks or mobile phone provider. Only a few lucky people can relate great examples of this working just as they’re meant to.

The Government wants to make switching easier for everyone, so we’ve come up with six basic principles which we think all industries and suppliers should adopt. These are:

  1. It should be free, unless you’re aware of and have consented to fair charges
  2. It should be quick
  3. You should only have to deal with the new company
  4. You should be able to access your data
  5. Comparison tools should be transparent if they receive payments from suppliers
  6. There should be an effective process for when things go wrong

Switching principlesI’d love to hear your switching stories, positive and negative, and have you tell us what you think about our switching principles. We also have a short survey open until 4 December – your views will help us making switching better.

If you’ve switched before, was it quick and easy for you? If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?

This is a guest contribution by Consumer Minister Nick Boles MP. All opinions are Nick’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Nick Boles needs to focus on supporting clean energy including bio-mass and forgetting all fossil fuels including fracked gas. Doesn’t he realise we don’t have thousands of square miles spare to pollute when things go wrong, unlike N Americans? Does he also realise fracking produces noxious products which must be safely stored long term?

Instead of burning stuff we could be looking at tidal power – a huge untapped resource for an island nation. Might have to overcome some opposition from those affected but if the future of the planet is at stake then it maybe worth some sacrifice. A whole village was submerged by a new reservoir in Derbyshire, railways have displaced large numbers of people but, if it is done properly, perhaps better than living in the vicinity of a Chinese nuclear power station.

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In the early 1980s, we had a UK national wave energy research programme.

Like many of our other (post-1976 oil crisis) national ventures into renewable energy, the programme was eventually closed down in favour of other more attractive options, including wind, tidal and geothermal.

Within the UK, Scotland is much better placed than England to make use of wave energy. This because most of it arrives in the form of “swell” from the Atlantic Ocean. So there are sound technical reasons why the Scottish Government might want to see its ongoing development. At the same time, because of the transmission distances required, it would not be a very attractive option for the supply of power to the “Tory heartlands” of England and Wales.

duncan, i thought it was still a United Kingdom? 🙂

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duncan, I do believe you!It does seem strange to me that in a “United Kingdom” we do not have a united approach. Wales has a poorly performing NHS, Scotland has no university fees, for example. But there we are! As far as “green” energy goes it seems to me Scotland has a number of advantages that could be used to advantage – highest wind speeds in the UK presumably mean more effective generation from wind turbines, high terrain for hydroelectric and see lochs with depth and narrow entrances to harness tidal power.

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What you are told you can save on Energy prices, bears NO comparison to what you get quoted, even if you’ve never switched. In my case by a factor of 10

The biggest mistake people make, encouraged by the likes of Which, is to only compare dual fuel tariffs. For the last two years I ‘ve found the lowest tariffs (at the time of renewal) to be had with separate suppliers. In my case with iSupply for electricity and Daligas for gas supply.

I have just switche Banks for the first time. No problems with the banks, but some DD recio=pients cant read, or dont read, or dont undersatnd but they seem to want to complain about not getting payed, when in two cases payment had in fact already been made.Others were just not reading what was written.
Dont blame the banks. Now for changing the power

I have to ask the Right Honourable Nick Boles, when will everybody, especially this government, stop focussing on how much things cost and think about the real value?
Obviously the various industries must have regulated procedures in place to allow customers to switch between suppliers with the minimum of fuss and expense, but it appears that the only focus from government, comparison sites and consumer organisations appears to be on getting the cheapest products.
Given the current issues we are all facing, shouldn’t a more responsible emphasis be placed on providing the public with options for a more sustainable economy based on socially beneficial and environmentally responsible solutions? Or is it all about shareholder profit?

Robert C says:
12 November 2015

Coop energy is a reasonable price (not the cheapest) and they have a policy of lower carbon than the average (by quite a way) which is why I switched.
They also have a history of socially responsible policies in their business dealings.
(just don’t mention the bank)

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I would also recommend Cooperative Energy. We were with them for a few years in our previous house and were entirely satisfied with their performance, the clarity of their documentation, and their ethical business practices. When we moved to our present house, as a new development it was already signed up to E.On. We could have switched but the E.On tariff was better and I was very satisfied with their customer service. We have stuck with E.On because they have improved and have remained very competitive. Their customer communications are very good. They obsess a bit about their image and reputation but that’s no reason not to like them.

I switched from plusnet to talktalk when their charges went up and I was able to get a brilliant deal including tv box. Plusnet’s broadband had been incredibly slow.
I rang Plusnet to tell them and a couple of facetious comments were made. After a couple of months I realised they had taken 2 direct debits and about to take a third. Bit lax of me but another story. I rang plusnet who said I hadn’t cancelled, blamed talktalk etc. The direct debits taken were the price plusnet charged without discounts. When I questioned this, they said these had been put on as I had cancelled ????? Spoke to rude customer services couple of times who all stuck to same story so unreasonable I tried chatting online. These people were no different. In the end they waived the third direct debit and said they would also waive disconnection fee. They also stopped me replying to their last post. It took so much time, effort and sheer frustration I thought , they can have it. Very unlike me. When I see the advert for plusnet where the man shouts at the band to stop playing, I have to smile and think how perfectly it epitomises them. I can honestly
say, I have never dealt with a customer service like it.

Of course the government wants me to switch. It wants everybody to buy electricity provided by nuclear power, to justify the risks and the cost of providing the power stations. It wants everybody to embrace fracking, and use the gas from this method, to justify digging up National Parks and other beauty spots, regardless of the cost to wildlife and to people.
Excuse me, but I don’t want my home to vanish into a sinkhole. I don’t want to use gas at all. I want to buy green electricity for the remainder of my life. When I can afford it, I want solar panels to generate my own. I want to heat my home with a carbon neutral woodburner. I realise that many people have no possibility of doing any of these things, but I want to be ‘green’ wherever possible.

When one hears Government (the very *animal* responsible for rules & control of the market) set to make the process easier , it send shivers down the spine ;-( let’s face it,this government does not prove any expertise whatsoever,the exact opposite, and once remained of people wishes – it’ll do anything to push the agenda through against the majority will regardless.

Best switch be switch of this government -many problems will solve themselves (if nothing we wouldn’t have to fight against every stupid decision it made and fork out for the bills of their c**k ups 😉

I have switched my utility provider 3 times and have found the leaving fee to dilute any savings made. Consequently I no longer bother to explore the opportunity to save just a few pounds when it costs upwards of £50 to quit one current supplier. Any encouragement to switch should be made in the context of it being free to switch.

I’ve just used the Big London Energy Switch to help me along with thousands of other Londoners negotiate a group deal for energy supply saving me about £200. Similar schemes are supported by local and regional councils around the country, and like Which Energy, do not charge you for switching. I found it easy. I just told the BLES my estimate annual consumption, and waited for their next group best offer.

I live in the countryside without access to mains gas supplies and continued using LPG deliveries after moving in, as the previous occupant had done. Over time, I considered myself a loyal customer,. However, I became so frustrated after all the’ big six’ had reduced their prices and the crude cost had dropped massively, yet no intimation my LPG supplier was following market rates. I rang their customer services and was informed the directors were in the process of considering this, but no decision had been reached. I obtained quotes from rivals and was offered a reduction of about 50% in the unit cost! As soon as my original supplier found out they tried to keep me by matching the competitors price. Too late and so disappointing that this is how some can value loyalty. I’ve had great service so far from my new supplier, hence so far so good and many pounds extra in my pocket!

I switched from HSBC after their latest immoral behaviour. I went into my local branch of TSB, got an appointment with the manager who did all the work for me, including setting up my online banking and banking app on my phone. He explained everything clearly and I ended up with a straightforward current account with excellent intetest rates. The other branch staff were helpful and friendly too.

We don’t switch energy/broadband suppliers etc. We are over 60 and I have various ailments that leave me feeling slightly below par most of the time. We feel that our time and enjoyment of life are just as important as money. Spending my time searching through intentionally confusing stuff online is not what I want to do so we will stay with our providers until they give us cause to make us really want to move awa . from them

I switch on a regular basis for just about everything, I am not going to go into how much of a nightmare it can be because I am not in the mood to write a book ! I would say that in this country we are treated like scum and idiots by the big companies so in my humble opinion, this is what needs to be done to change things overnight for the better !;
1) Make it law that all companies have to accept emails to cancel contracts.
2) Make it law that all companies have to accept emails for service issues.
3) When changing energy supplier, make it compuslory for the new suppliuer to “inherit” the debit, in other words, poor consumers do not switch because they can not afford to pay off the “winter debit”
4) Make it law that when they owe you money, they repay it to your bank instead of sending you a cheque !, if they are happy to take your money electronically there is no reason they can not repay it the same way !- an obvious con to hold onto your money longer so they can earn interest !

Peter Bowron says:
13 November 2015

It is straightforward to switch suppliers but difficult to receive an updated account from the supplier
one is leaving . nPower took many months of ‘phone calls to settle and Scottish Power send outdated
accounts in which they owe the customer.

I have been with the same bank for 60 years and see no reason to change, I also have a building society account primarily for mortgage use paid off 20 years age, it changed because it went bust and was rescued at no financial loss to me. The utility companies have provided reasonable service. I think it would be better if the Supplier and Maintenance Companies were the same. There would be an incentive to give good maintenance to keep happy customers.

I usually change regularly but cooperative energy have messed up my meter readings so I am unable to act until that is sorted out – so far it has taken 2 years (I wanted to change in June 15). I understand they have the worst customer relations record – being ecological doesn’t pay!!

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We switched to First:utility 2 years ago from E.ON (the switch went very smoothly) and use their one-year tariff. As they bring out new, cheaper tariffs we change to them. Our experience with First:utility has been excellent, calls answered within minutes, friendly staff, monthly payments changed to what we want (not what they suggest), build-up of funds repaid with no fuss within two days.
Some of the comments posted above sound like they are talking about a totally different company; or are they mischief-makers trying to denigrate a perfectly respectable company?

At the start of September 2015 I switched from BT because they are absolutely useless and in 18 months given me cause to complain twice. The absolute joke is test I am still having to deal with BT trying to set up a premium email address. Believe it or not eventually it turns out that BT is not mobile friendly and I have been told 2 months later that I will need to borrow a laptop to set up the email. Really BT which century are you in?! No problem with Plusnet yet. I need the premium account as I have not switched before and have so many emails that I need to save. Top tip use a non company related email address so that you do not have to maintain an account with your useless old provider.

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Ofgem are continuing their consultation on making energy switching esasier and faster, with a one day switch one of the aims. They asked for responses in February, but Which? does not appear to be among the list of those who contributed. Currently they are setting up working groups from industry and consumer representatives to continue the work. One relevant group for consumers seems to be this:
External Design Advisory Group (EDAG)
The EDAG will act as a steering group for the four workstreams. It will consist of representatives from Ofgem, industry and consumer representatives.

Is Which? proposing to take part in this?