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Should I switch to a smaller energy supplier?

Energy customers are losing out on millions of pounds by not switching to smaller energy suppliers. So what's stopping us?


by Victoria Bischoff on Apr 25, 2012 at 00:01

Should I switch to a smaller energy supplier?

Energy customers are losing out on millions of pounds because they are not switching to smaller energy suppliers, according to new research.

In fact, a survey of over 2,000 people revealed that just 52% of customers would switch away from the Big Six – British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy.

Yet, only 19% say this is because they are happy with their current provider.

Why aren’t people switching to smaller firms?

Concerns about size and security appear to be what’s holding most people back.

Some 35% of customers worry a smaller supplier will go out of business, while 28% are concerned they will lose their supply if something does go wrong – fears which are completely unfounded as there are safeguards in place, said uSwitch.  

A number of people are also reluctant to switch to a smaller supplier because they don’t think they will get a better deal – even though a number of small suppliers offer some of the lowest prices in the market.

First Utility, for example, currently tops uSwitch’s energy best buy table with its iSave Dual Fuel V10 tariff costing £1,027 a year – £322 cheaper than the most expensive standard plan on offer.

Unfounded fears

Customers frightened their gas and electricity might cut off if their energy company goes bust should be aware that there is regulatory protection in place to prevent this from ever happening.

Under the Utilities Act 2000 Ofgem has the power to appoint what’s known as a ‘supplier of last resort’ in the event an energy company is forced to wind up.

All this means is that the regulator will ask one of the big suppliers to take on the failed company’s customer base. The switch will happen automatically and you will then be given the opportunity to move to another supplier if you wish.

And even if no supplier volunteers to take over the customers, Ofgem has the power to force one to – regardless of the size of the business.

‘If anything happened to your supplier, Ofgem would step in so you would always be guaranteed supply,’ reassured Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at

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6 comments so far. Why not have your say?

White Stick follower

Apr 25, 2012 at 11:52

I am in my third year with OVO. I check price comparison sites each year. The few potential savings that have been thrown up are so nominal as not worth the bother. The call centre staff respond quickly, normally within 5 minutes and do listen and take action. They seem to know the answers to questions, and should they not they find out quickly, and answer e-mails within 48 hours. I looked at Spark, but the volume of adverse comments from customers definitely put me off.

As an aside how is it that different comparison sites come up with varying answers when the same data is input?

As for EDF call centres, well you can be holding for an eternity-and get cut off when you actually get someone to pick up the call.

I do not work for or have any association other than that of a customer, with OVO. If a significantly better deal comes along at the end of the year I will change supplier.

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Apr 25, 2012 at 12:32

We've recently switched suppliers and found (though a price comparison site) that it was cheaper to use different suppliers for gas and electricity - not what we expected. One of the suppliers we are using charges the same regardless of how the account is paid - again, not what we expected.

I'd also like to point out that the issue of how the power is produced is not relevant for many consumers, not that we don't care about eco issues, but the small provider is actually using another, larger company (presumably bound by the Cert scheme mentioned in the article) to supply the fuel. The consumer is not made aware of this until after the change in supplier has been organised (although you obviously still have the cooling off period to change your mind).

The whole system is totally screwed up. We're now buying gas from a small company who will be supplying it through a different (electricity) company. Presumably all those involved will still be making their profit, so the more companies that handle each of our transactions the higher will be the eventual mark-up. I guess that is why it is necessary to check up on the cheapest tariff regularly - they rely on our inertia to make larger profits once the inital cheap deal is no longer so cheap.

Why on earth do we have to go through this ludicrous system? We're doing it because we will be saving more than £100 on relatively small bills for a little-used house. This is actually more than 20%.

Margaret Thatcher has a lot to answer for.

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Mike Brooks

Apr 25, 2012 at 18:37

We're in our second year with Ovo - excellent speed of telephone response, informed and helpful staff. Simple, uncomplicated tariff choice. Honest operators amongst the weasely big boys.

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Ann Barton

Apr 25, 2012 at 23:24

You will be unable to find it on the Utility Warehouse site, but supplier there is npower.

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Apr 25, 2012 at 23:30

You can't just say First Utility tops uSwitch's best buy energy table. Which supplier is the best in uSwitch's tables depends entirely on how much electricity and gas you use. Someone with a 5-bedroom detached house will find one supplier is best, and someone with a 1-bedroom flat in a large block with only one outside wall will find another is best..

I keep on my PC a spreadsheet of my consumption in BTUs, and I go on to the uSwitch website every year, using the average of the last 4 years' consumption. It seems to work for me, but it does mean changing suppliers almost every year.

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Steve P

Apr 28, 2012 at 12:35

I considered switching to First Utility, but am reluctant to after reading some of the reviews of their customer service that I found online.

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