Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ed Davey's 24 hour energy switching? - Try 24 weeks

Let us all bask in gas's warm
 glowing warming glow
Back in November following the whole "energy price freeze" political ding-dong I thought it would be a good idea to look into whether I was getting the best deal for my gas and electricity. This was partly to potentially save a bit of money if possible and also as an experiment to see how straightforward the process is.

I had fixed my prices several months earlier and as since then they had gone up across the board for variable rate tariffs I had assumed I would be on a better deal than was available in the market. That turned out not to be the case. There were lots of deals that would have saved me money, in some cases well over £100 per year. I had found this out by going through the uSwitch website (which is one of the main recommended ways to do this I noticed when looking into it).

So I called up uSwitch on a Saturday afternoon in early November and went through a protracted conversation where I explained all my current tariff information which I had had to collate from my existing bills. We went through all the options and I finally decided to go with one of the independent suppliers (i.e. not one of the big six). But just when they tried to progress the switch during the call the woman I was speaking to told me there was a problem and that for that particular supplier they did not have the rights to use the pipeline that supplies my estate. I was a bit irritated by this as I had liked the idea of going with a smaller company but there was nothing I could do about it so instead I arranged to switch to one of the other big six suppliers and was informed soon after by e-mail:

Hi Mark,
We received your energy switch details and want to let you know it is now being processed.
This email contains all the details of your new plan, and can answer any questions you may have.
Congratulations on saving £127.19 a year on your energy!

I was told over the phone that it could take between 6 and 8 weeks so I made a mental note not to think any more about this until the new year.

When January came around and my direct debits for my existing supplier went through again I just thought we were only just outside the 8 week boundary and we'd had Christmas and New Year in between so gave it the benefit of the doubt and assumed it would happen soon.

When February came around and my direct debits for my existing supplier went through again I did start to wonder what was happening but I do know that these things often take longer than hoped for so I told myself to wait a bit longer.

But when yesterday I saw that the direct debits for my existing supplier were going to go through again this week and we are now 4 months on from when I set the switch in motion I called uSwitch to see what was happening and why my switch was delayed.

I was astonished to discover that they had no record of me at all on their system. My name and postcode yielded nothing and looking up my e-mail address also returned no record from their database. They were as perturbed about this as me are still trying to work out what went wrong but it is clear I have been sitting around waiting for a switch that was never going to happen.

I am sure this is not everyone's experience with switching and this will probably just turn out to be a clerical or computer error but I wanted to highlight how difficult this process can be in spite of all the high flown rhetoric from both government and opposition politicians and irrespective of how high up the political agenda the issue of energy prices is. I had to spend a good couple of hours in November getting all the information together and going through a very long phone call. And I have no doubt that when the fixed deal had run out in April 2015 I'd have to have done exactly the same all over again.

Of course irritatingly something went wrong with my switch and I suspect the deal I wanted will no longer be available. But when you have so many deals available from so many different companies to the extent that an intermediate body such as uSwitch is a recommended route for switching things are bound to go wrong. The fundamental problem is that the current system is too complicated to make transparent and straightforward comparison and switching possible.

If my experience here is anything to go by, we've got a very, very long way to go before Ed Davey's "24 hour energy supplier switching" can become a reality.

In my case it looks like it's going to be around 24 weeks.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your experience is completely irrelevant to 24 hour switching. And horribly old-fashioned - who uses the phone to apply for anything now? Phone is for complaints and companies who can't be bothered to add functionality to their websites.

Obviously uSwitch has just neglected to pass on your details to the energy companies, who are perfectly capable of doing a 24 hour switch (notwithstanding a 14-day cooling off period and the time it takes to figure out address and meter number errors in their databases - which if 24 hour switching is implemented, should go away after the first time a utility supply is switched under the new system).

If you had gone to topcashback and done everything online yourself, you would have gotten paid £5 for using 3 different sites to check the cheapest tariff, then anything from £10 to £100 for the switch itself.

Since that would involve you going to the supplier direct, if your switch is not complete after 8 weeks, then you could have complained, and at 16 weeks you could have escalated to the energy ombudsman and gotten another £50

Anonymous said...

Mark,

More than agreeing with you that many energy companies fail to uphold their obligations to consumers, or recognise the concept of customer service, I am curious to know why in your professional position you even entertained the idea of using a general bucket shop to investigate your energy tariffs.

Surely you (and your Essex Road peers) are all using exclusively renewable power and green gas (for those with their own energy contracts)?

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