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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 19:02 GMT
Q&A: Switching energy supplier

The UK's gas and electricity markets have been opened to competition. But many people have failed to switch suppliers. According to industry watchdog Ofgem, only about a third of gas and electricity customes have switched since market deregulation in 1998 and 1999.

So why are people not switching?

Gas and electrcity deregulation has experienced many teething problems.

Customer inertia, access to impartial comparative data on prices and deals, along with switching problems have acted as impediments to growth.

One of the most off-putting for people have been the number of horror stories, centering around commission-hungry salesmen.

In a case in 2001, a salesman admitted forging signatures of 43 contracts and switched homeowners to a new supplier without their knowledge.

The salesman slipped up when one of his victims was actually in Moscow at the time he was supposed to have signed the form.

Despite a crackdown in this area, heavy-handed sales techniques are still a frequent cause for complaint.

However, switching supplier will save the average UK household 100 a year according to the Consumers' Association's Which? magazine.

How can I find out about prices?

There are more than 20 gas and electricity suppliers in the UK.

While it was difficult to compare prices when the markets first deregulated, it is now much easier.

Energywatch, for example, publishes bi-monthly comparison tables on its website, which will show you in pounds and pence how much you can save.

You can also get an idea about the customer service records of companies. It has details of complaints, while some other sites provide other customer satisfaction indicators.

There are also a number of commercial websites, where you can compare utility bills, including gas and electricity, such as Buy.co.uk, uswitch.com and Saveonyourbills.co.uk (see links).

What about dual-fuel?

Many of the suppliers in the market now offer "dual-fuel" deals - they will supply you with both electricity and gas.

This is convenient because you will get only one bill and need deal only with one supplier.

However, these deals are not always cheapest.

Other ways to cut my bills?

Not chasing customers for overdue payments saves companies time and money.

Many companies therefore offer savings if you pay by direct debit - of up to 10%.

You could also save money by making some changes to your home.

The government's Energy Savings Trust promotes energy savings in the home.

Measures such as using energy efficient bulbs and installing insulation could take pounds off your energy bill each year.

For example, Installing cavity wall insulation could save you 150 a year in energy bills in an average home, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

It also calculates that using a low energy light bulb, which now costs about 2.50 will save around 10 a year.

For money saving tips in the home, as well as grants available to homeowners, try its website or contact its Energy Efficiency Hotline: 0845 727 7200.

What if it goes wrong?

New rules mean that you have seven days from the date you receive the written confirmation to cancel the contract.

When you cancel it is best to put this in writing and keep a copy of the correspondence.

If a company contacts you by telephone, make sure you keep a note of the conversation and the person's name.

Owing to the number of complaints and publicity independent companies have received, there are better than average procedures in place for dealing with complaints.

If you have problems, contact Energywatch's Consumer helpline: 08459 060708 or e-mail: enquiry@energywatch.org.uk

Money saving tips


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