It’s no secret that our energy suppliers in the UK sometimes seem to be looking for ways to extract more money from us, the innocent consumer. One of the biggest rip-offs, as has been extensively highlighted recently, is the ability for your energy company to sign you up on a super low tariff, before quietly switching you to a more expensive one further down the line.
These end of contract switches have seen energy companies pocketing in the region of £900 million in additional charges. Some research suggests that this figure could be as much as £1.7bn. In fact, research by the now defunct DECC showed that around 9.5 million of us could save more than £300 a year simply by switching suppliers. Here, we discuss how your supplier could be ripping you off, who are the worst offenders and what you can do about it.
How are you being ripped off?
It’s really quite simple. When you compare and switch, energy companies will offer you a super low rate deal, which looks like a bargain at the time. Indeed, it usually is a bargain, but will have a fixed shelf life of usually one year. At the end of the year, often without any clear notification, you’ll be switched over to their ‘standard tariff’ or some type of default tariff, which will be significantly more expensive than the deal you originally signed up for.
Related: How to switch your energy supplier
Who are the worst offenders?
Recent research, published by new comparison site Octopus Energy, has highlighted the worst offenders:
- First Utility: The rise from fixed to variable is as much as 53 per cent;
- Npower: From fixed to standard is a 48 per cent rise;
- EDF: Energy Simple Fixed to standard is a 47 per cent rise;
- Extra Energy: From Fresh Fixed Price to variable is a 45 per cent rise;
- Scottish Power: Expect a 45 per cent rise if you’re coming to the end of Online Fixed Price Energy;
- British Gas: HomeEnergy Exclusive customers will be hiked by 43 per cent;
- Sainsbury’s: Fixed to Variable is a 38 per cent rise;
- Co-Op Energy: Fix for Longer customers will be hiked by 38 per cent when they are put on Pioneer v5.2;
- SSE: Their 1 Year Fixed is 37 per cent lower than their Standard.
Whether you’re with one of these offenders or not, you can be sure that if you’re coming to the end of an ‘introductory offer’ period, or some type of fixed price deal, you’ll be looking at a sizeable hike in your energy prices. Don’t take this lying down! Take the initiative and switch, and keep your bills manageable.
What can you do about it?
According to the recent investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), around 70 per cent of us are currently being overcharged for our gas and electricity supply. As part of their outcomes and recommendations, the CMA are calling for UK energy suppliers to give details of all customers who have been on the default tariff for more than three years, so that other companies can help them switch.
While this will certainly help to pick up those people who live under rocks and are not aware of the impetus to switch, for most of us, there is absolutely no reason to wait. Switching supplier is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse, and could see you enjoying lower bills in just a few weeks. Here’s how:
On your own via price comparison sites: Take your pick of the price comparison sites. According to MoneySavingExpert.com, Energy Helpline, MoneySuperMarket, UKPower and USwitch offer some cracking deals, and if you sign up via their website, you could get an additional bonus from a case of wine to £35 cashback.
Via an energy collective: MoneySavingExpert also run their own Cheap Energy Club where frugal consumers can join with other households to collectively negotiate an unbeatable deal on their gas and electricity. Other collectives may be available in your region or through groups you hold membership of.
Negotiate with your supplier: To start making savings faster, you can tell your energy supplier you’ve had a cheaper quote for your gas and electricity, and that you’re thinking of leaving. Chances are they will offer you a better deal rather than have you leave, although it may not be as good as their offer for new customers.
Check out the independent suppliers: You don’t need to stick to the ‘Big Six’, in fact some of the best energy deals can be found through smaller, independent suppliers. Some of these don’t appear on the comparison sites, so check out the best of the bunch here, and contact them directly for a quote.
Sign up for an automatic energy switching service: New services are emerging which offer to track energy prices on your behalf and to switch your supply to a cheaper deal when it seems to be worth it. Check out Flipper, Swuto, Voltz and Onedox for more information on so called ‘smart switching’.
If you already have a smart meter installed, you’ll be able to enjoy your new, lower energy tariff within a matter of hours. If you don’t have one yet, fear not, because the UK is having smart meters rolled out to all premises by 2020, so yours will be arriving very soon.