February 11, 2016 by Nash Riggins
Nobody likes their energy company. Why would you? Britain’s entire domestic utilities industry is built around six multinationals whose board members are willing to beg, borrow and steal from cash-strapped war veterans just to carve out a decent bottom line for overseas shareholders. Government regulators dish out fines to these companies like million-pound hotcakes, and regular horror stories of misselling and fuel poverty have done irreparable damage to the industry as a whole.
God knows suppliers are doing their best to turn over a new leaf. Customer service agents at the UK’s Big Six are now bending over backwards to explain how bills are created. It’s easier than ever to negotiate lower monthly payments, and companies are now legally obliged to inform you (albeit in microscopic print) when they’re ripping you off. And thanks to rock-bottom natural gas prices, well-funded PR sirens are up on the rooftops every single morning singing songs of long-delayed price cuts.
No one can deny the UK’s energy market is slowly evolving for the better. But now, big energy companies want to do even more to prove they’re standing up for consumer rights. How? By interrupting your dinner and worming their way into your kitchen with fantastic new offers.
That’s right: Scottish Power and SSE are now calling for an end to the government’s recent ban on doorstop sales tactics. According to suppliers, this would enable their crack sales teams to help customers who do not shop around for deals online to find a cheaper tariff. At face value, that sounds really nice. Dig a little deeper, and it’s actually a load of shit.
Four years ago, industry regulator Ofgem banned energy companies from doorstop selling after 52% of customers were found to be paying higher bills after signing up to deals with cold callers. That same year, SSE was fined £10.5m for ripping customers off at “every stage of the sales process”. Fellow Big Six suppliers EDF and E.ON were fined £4.5m and £12m, respectively. So, apparently cold callers aren’t 100% honest – who knew?
But the real kicker is the way in which Ofgem’s cold call ban has somehow encouraged more customers than ever before to get out there and compare the market.
Since companies like Scottish Power and SSE were told to keep off our doormats in 2012, the number of households switching to cheaper energy deals has shot up to an all-time high. According to YouGov, 72% of all UK consumers have switched their gas or electricity accounts in the last five years. In fact, suppliers now oversee one million more gas and electricity transfers per year than they did in 2012. Almost 6m customers switched in 2015 – and more than 1m households dropped Big Six companies for smaller, up-and-coming suppliers.
Funny enough, those individuals are also saving a lot of money by dropping big companies. In the past four years, the average annual saving being made by the customers who switch supplier has risen from £138 in 2012 to £337. But it’s not always about saving money. On Wednesday, a new campaign was launched that will see hundreds of thousands of UK Christians “put their faith into action” by switching to more eco-friendly energy tariffs. And with more local, green energy suppliers to choose from than ever before, these sort of schemes don’t generally favour big multinationals.
Listen: the UK’s domestic utilities market is a dynamic beast. Believe it or not, Britain actually boasts some of Europe’s cheapest energy prices. That’s largely thanks to minimal regulatory oversight. Our energy market is very open and very competitive, and that’s a good thing. But at the end of the day, some laws are in place for a reason. Cold callers aren’t only annoying – they also tend to rip customers off big time. They’re bad for PR, bad for business and bad for the industry as a whole.
With any luck, regulators will bear that in mind before unleashing big energy companies back onto our streets to spoil your dinner.