Switching your energy supplier. We all know we should do it. We’ve all been told for years now; it’s easy, it’s quick, here are very few things that can go wrong and you can save a lot of money.
So, I wondered if that was actually people’s experience of the switching process now. Happily, three-quarters of people who told us they had switched their energy supplier in a Resolver survey this week, the process posed no problems. It also seems like messages have been getting through, as saving money, better service and current suppliers falling below par were the main motivators for people to make the move.
But that still left 25% of consumers telling us that they had encountered issues through the ‘simple’ process of switching their energy supplier. Our survey looked at the issues that consumers were coming up against, with the hassle and frustration (needlessly I would say) apparent.
So what’s the problem?
Of those that gave us details of their switching problems, the issues were clear. There were those that bumped into meter reading discrepancies and incorrect details according to national databases. Irritating and a hassle, yes. Easy to correct and sort – it should be but our respondents in some cases had a lot of back and forth to get their switch back on track, which is quite frankly unacceptable.
We also saw those that had either quoted the wrong switching ‘references’ (these are the numbers often hidden on bills that are often confused with account numbers). I’d say there that suppliers can make this far easier – and cynically when you are quoted as giving the wrong ‘MPAN’ or ‘MPRN’ (congratulations if you know what these are and where to find them), there should be clear guidance on how this can be rectified.
Then there were those that were truly concerning. Respondents reported switches being blocked by their current supplier – sometimes with no reason given, which should not be tolerated. Equally those who found they had been switched – either back to their old supplier or a completely different firm – without any permission given.
Where they were told, it tended to be around consumers owing money. Let’s be clear, if you’re in debt with your supplier for less than 28 days you can still switch with no issue, any longer than that and you will need to pay it back, but a quick glance of your account and/or bills should give you that information. If it doesn’t, phone the supplier – it has to tell you what your balance is. In any case, once you made the switch, your final bill must be with you within six weeks of it completing.
Then there were those who were actually owed money from their old supplier (known as a credit balance) – and had to fight to get it, for sometimes months. Given that this should be automatic, how is it the case that suppliers feel able to withhold that money and then make it as difficult as possible for consumers to ask for that money – that they are owed?
Compensation – does it go far enough?
The regulator Ofgem has gone some way to introduce measures to try to deter suppliers from making that switch more tricky – or in some cases nigh on impossible – mainly in the form of compensation if it goes wrong.
With new rules introduced in stages over the past two years, in basic terms, you can claim compensation of £30 for each of four possible reasons concerning your switch – including if it’s not completed within 15 working days and if you don’t get any monies due back to you within a certain time.
It is admirable that Ofgem has taken the bull by the horns on behalf of the consumer and attached some accountability to suppliers for how their current (and prospective) customers are treated. Compensation should also be automatic, so in theory, you don’t even need to ‘claim’.
The big problem is that when we asked consumers if they knew they could claim if their switch had not been completed within 15 working days, the majority didn’t. More must be done to highlight these protections so that people feel there is a safety net, and a deterrent for things going wrong.
Easy corrections to the process
The conclusion? Switching should be an easy business, and in the main it is. But all parties can’t get complacent that it’s job done just because switching is on the rise. There are still too many people encountering too many ‘administrative’ problems people with switching – wrong address classifications, wrong meter readings (even ‘wrong’ meters). More effort can be made by all involved in the industry to ensure such ‘minor’ errors are corrected and quickly.
We understand that there may have been lags during lockdown but the time for that excuse is over. After all, if you aren’t getting the best deal and the best customer service, why wouldn’t you switch? More often than not the benefits outweigh the drawbacks – you will never be without energy and there is a route to complain – and compensation is available even if issues arise.
Got a complaint about your energy switch? Are you not getting credit you are due or has your old supplier blocked your switch? Resolver can help. Raise a complaint to both your old and new supplier for free.