Britain’s energy companies were told today they must make switching suppliers faster for consumers – with an ambition to move to switching in 24 hours, rather than the current five weeks – without increasing consumer bills.
Ed Davey, UK Energy Minister, also said today that consumers will find it easier to switch suppliers to get the best deal – forcing energy companies to compete much more actively for their custom – as part of reforms to ensure the energy market is truly competitive and working in the public interest.
In his Annual Energy Statement, Davey said: “The energy industry needs to change to put consumers in control. That means making it easy for people to change supplier to save money, it means regular market assessments to check their behaviour, and it means tougher penalties for market manipulation and putting an end to opaque finances.
“We want to push energy companies to make switching quicker and easier – because consumer action can force suppliers to change their ways. Bills are being re-designed through Ofgem’s retail market reforms to give people the information they need to make switching easy – and we are taking direct action through the Big Energy Saving Network to bring first hand help to those vulnerable people who find switching difficult.
“Energy companies need to know that any wrongdoing will be uncovered and dealt with. That’s why the regulators are going to carry out annual competition reviews, to make sure the energy market is operating properly. We are going to consult on increasing the sanctions for manipulation of the energy markets, so that they carry criminal penalties for the first time.”
First Utility has been leading the push towards faster switching and Davey will meet with them over the next few weeks, along with Ovo, Spark, Good Energy, EON, Scottish Power, SSE and Co-op, and any other interested suppliers about how to make the switching process a lot faster.
As well as energy companies now being required to tell consumers about their cheapest tariff on the front of every bill, energy companies will be required to include a QR (Quick Response) code on energy bills so that web-phone users can switch to the best deal through a few clicks on a mobile phone.
As well as directly helping smartphone users, it will mean those giving advice on switching supplier to vulnerable people can instantly get the information needed to help them find the best deal on the market.
The UK Energy Department (DECC) will also look at requiring energy suppliers to provide key data securely to third parties such as switching sites.
Energy companies should be more open about how they treat credit balances in consumers’ accounts, making every effort to return money to customers with closed accounts. Where that is not possible, Davey said that energy companies should ring-fence that money to help their most vulnerable customers.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker will shortly meet energy suppliers to discuss issues around direct debits, including the level of credit balances that energy companies hold.