SSE may have dropped their prices, but they’ll be trying claw money back in other ways, like scrapping the free phone number customers can call them on.
The energy company have stopped using the 0800 number, and instead, fired up the 0345 numbers, which will cost you (up to) 9p a minute from a line land, or 40p from your mobile.
Now, you may remember that the rules around 0800 numbers changed recently. The short version is that Ofcom said that 0800 numbers had to be properly free, with no hidden costs. This change has seen a number of companies having to be straight-up about any charges that crop up when you ring them.
SSE are throwing the blame at Ofcom, even though they could actually run a free phone service if they wanted to. The energy company said that this was adding a “a significant cost”. They also assume that most people have inclusive phone minutes packages, so it should be free in the long run (tough cheese if you don’t).
Of course, if you want to ring a company for free (any company for that matter), there are ways around it. You could try the WeQ4U app for starters.
The app says: “WeQ4U is a FREE Android/iPhone App and Service that puts you through to UK 01,02,03 and 08 numbers for FREE, without queueing. Mobile users save approx. 35p per minute on their 084 and 087 calls with WeQ4U, whether they encounter a queue or not, so it saves you money and time.”
Give it a whirl. Don’t give misers your money.
Here’s a worrying accusation – the charity Age UK may have been promoting unfavourable energy deals in exchange for money from E.On. The watchdog, Ofgem, are looking into the claim, after an investigation by The Sun.
The paper claimed that the energy deals that were being offered by Age UK with supplier E.On could well have been more expensive than necessary, with cheaper deals available. The Sun continued that, in return, Age UK pocketed around £6m from the energy company.
Given that Age UK are there to serve pensioners, who are often vulnerable when it comes to things like this, this is serious indeed. If it is true that the charity have been doing pensioners out of money, and messing with anything that might affect the warmth of their home, there’s going to be hell to pay.
It is worth pointing out that Age UK have rejected these claims, while E.On have simply said that their tariffs are as competitive as anyone else’s. Okay? Will that suffice, watching lawyers?
Now, back to The Sun’s report – they have said that Age UK recommended a special rate from E.On, which typically costs pensioners £1,049 for the year, which is £245 more than the cheapest rate which you could’ve been offered in 2015. The paper also said that the charity got around £41 from the energy firm, for every person signed-up, which totalled somewhere in the region of £6m.
A spokesperson for Age UK said: “We strongly reject the allegations and interpretation of figures in this article. Energy prices change all the time and we have always advised older people to look out for new good deals and we will continue to do so.”
E.On said: “We always work to make sure our tariffs, for all customers, are competitively priced and that is further evidenced by the fact that our current Age UK tariff was the UK’s cheapest product of its type in the UK when it was launched, a two-year fixed deal, and when we launched our current one-year fixed product, it was also the cheapest in the UK.”
Ofgem are going to look into this and, if there’s any foul play, expect some huge fines to be handed out.
As for ScottishPower, this reduction will come into play from March 15th, so you’ll have to wait a while if you’re a customer on the standard variable tariff. So you’ll still be paying more while it is cold, regrettably.
These price drops don’t affect electricity prices either.
Now, seeing as this price drop has been a long time coming (too long, you might say, given that the price of wholesale gas has been dropping steadily for the past 12 months), it does leave ScottishPower customers still paying hundreds of pounds over the odds, compared to those who have already shopped around and switched to a fixed-price deal.
If you’re looking at switching supplier or tariff, then check out uSwitch’s tool where you can search for the best deals.
Gas vendors, SSE, have said that they’re going to be reducing their prices, thanks to a drop in wholesale costs. The 5.3% cut in their standard tariff will come into play on 29th March, just in time for Spring.
SSE said: “This latest reduction will save a typical household gas customer on our Standard tariff £32 per year compared to existing prices and is SSE’s third gas price cut in two years when it announced a unique price freeze in March 2014.”
“SSE customers have not seen an energy price increase since November 2013; indeed, the new gas prices will be 12%, or £78 lower for an average customer than 2013 levels.”
“A typical dual fuel Direct Debit bill on our Standard tariff will be £1,068 compared with £1,162 in November 2013.”
Of course, SSE have been losing a lot of customers of late, so this is clearly a move to win some hearts and minds. Will it work? Well, seeing as all the energy companies are looking at (or have already) dropping their prices, SSE will have to do more than just lower some bills. You’ll remember than E.On made a similar move.
SSE added: “Wholesale energy prices account for an ever-smaller proportion of the bill and there are different cost pressures affecting electricity and gas, but SSE is pleased that it will be able to bring down gas prices three months before its current price freeze is due to end.”
People airing their grievances went up by 23% to 65,168 in 2015, from 52,937 in 2014.
Billing was the most common problem people had (again, not at all surprising), being the thing that got people’s dander up in eight out of every ten complaints. 9% of gripes concerned people trying to switch suppliers or tariffs.
Of course, through all this, there’s still a lot of talk about suppliers overcharging their customers. Dermot Nolan, chief executive of Ofgem, said that it looks like everyone should be seeing bigger price drops in their bills. Anyone holding their breath waiting for that would be foolish at best.
The chief ombudsman, Lewis Shand Smith, said: “Energy complaints rose by nearly a quarter over the course of last year as customers continue to be more vocal about their discontent with suppliers. Towards the end of the year, we’ve seen some suppliers take some encouraging steps, particularly when it comes to improving their billing processes, but there’s still more that can be done.”
“We encourage anyone experiencing an ongoing issue to speak to us – be it for advice or resolution, we’re here to help and our complaints process is easy to use and free to consumers.”
You can visit the Ofgem site, here.
E.On have decided to cut their prices, buckling under the pressure of complaints, saying that the Big Six suppliers haven’t been doing enough. They’re the first of the big guns to lower their prices, saying that there’s going to be a 5% drop in gas bills.
This comes into play on February 1st, and in real money, works out at around £32 off your average bill.
Seeing as wholesale costs have been falling, there’s been a lot of chatter and yelling about gas bills, and after numerous complaints from customers, campaign groups got involved, and so too did energy regulator Ofgem.
Of course, the real good news here, is that E.On dropping their prices invariably means that the other providers are going to have to follow suit, or else look like uncaring tightwads. There’s already rumours that British Gas are preparing a similar cut in price, but were just beaten to the punch by E.On.
If British Gas and E.On do it, then it shouldn’t be too long before EDF, Npower, SSF, and Scottish Power get on board too.
However, you might be thinking that this is all a bit underwhelming… and you’d be right to, even though any fall of price is to be welcomed. This is long, long overdue, as the wholesale prices have been dropping quickly, while the energy companies decided to do nothing for the most part, other than scratch their arses.
Everyone hates energy companies, and a bit of research has said that they’ve collectively overcharged everyone by a whopping £3 billion. The report came from Energyhelpline, and they showed that over the last couple of years, wholesale gas prices have gone down by 51%, and electricity prices have dropped by 33%.
“This could have been passed through as price cuts of around 25% on gas and 11% on electricity for UK households, yet all loyal customers have seen is an average of 5% off gas bills and nothing off electricity bills,” said Mark Todd from the site.
Energy pricing has been a hot topic over the last few years, with scores of reports and reviews saying that the UK has been overcharged, so this will come of little surprise to many.
However, there was a defence of the energy companies. Lawrence Slade, gaffer at Energy UK, said that energy companies have been bringing prices down, and they continue to do so and that, since January 2014 the cheapest tariffs have fallen by £200-ish: ”Wholesale prices make up less than half of the average bill and the majority of the rest falls outside suppliers’ control so there will always be a difference between wholesale price falls and what customers actually pay.”
Of course, energy companies have overheads and wages to factor in as well, but there’s a definite sense that they could be doing more to bring everyone’s bills down.
Richard Lloyd from Which!!! says: “It’s extremely disappointing millions of us are still paying way over the odds for our energy. Consumers will rightly ask why their bills haven’t been cut dramatically when wholesale costs have dropped.”
“The Government needs to protect vulnerable customers from being ripped off and make people feel confident about switching supplier.”
Electricity and gas bills, on average, have fallen by around £45 in the past year, as more and more people switch companies for improved deals. According to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, it shows that electricity bills have fallen by £8 and gas bills by £37.
However, it looks like there’s big differences, depending on where you live. For example, in Merseyside, the average is £1,346, while in the East of England, it is £1,261.
The DECC say that these differences are a result of the costs of distributing power.
Either way, customers are getting more canny about finding the best deal for themselves, and the amount of people switching electricity provider in the third quarter of this year was up 6%, compared to the same period in 2014. As for people switching gas providers, that number was up 27.6% in that same time.
A DECC spokesman said: “Keeping bills down for hardworking families is a priority and we are taking action to support bill payers. Energy bills fell by £45 this year and we will continue to work hard to reduce them further.”
“Thanks to Government reforms there are now 31 energy suppliers in the market helping to drive more competition and choice for bill payers to shop around for a cheaper deal. This is up from just six in 2010.”
Our chums over at npower are getting fined again, this time being hit with £26m for sending out late, and frequently inaccurate bills. They’ve not been handling complaints properly either. We can’t remember a time they were doing it correctly.
Ofgem said that over 500,000 customers had been affected, and many of them had suffered “significant distress and worry,” hence the level of the fine.
This is the largest settlement that has been agreed between Ofgem and one of the energy suppliers that make up ‘The Big Six’. The money from the fine will be given as compensation to some of the customers worst affected by the company, and to charity.
Ofgem noted that, once again, a lot of npower’s problems came about after they introduced a new IT system. However, they brought that in way back in 2011, which means they really should’ve got a handle on it by now. There’s no excuse for the fact that, between September 2013 and December 2014, npower issued over 500,000 late bills.
Over 2 million complaints were made to npower during this period, angering customers further by pursuing debts for bills that were sent out with incorrect information on in the first place. Given that they also made a hash of the complaints they did receive, leaving many unresolved, that only caused more trouble for customers.
Dermot Nolan, Ofgem chief executive said: “npower failed its customers. Not only have its billing and complaint handling procedures been chaotic, it treated many of its customers poorly, which is completely unacceptable.”
“The payment of £26m sends a strong message to the industry that we expect them to act quickly and effectively to ensure a good customer experience.”
Npower apologised, and Simon Stacey, npower’s head of domestic markets said: “We are very sorry about what has happened and that is why we have agreed this significant package of customer redress.”
At the UN Conference on Climate Change, the car-maker showed off their two-way charger, which they developed with a company called ENEL. This would see owners of the all-electric Nissan Leaf to send power to their houses for up to two days. Handy if you’re not using your car.
Their idea is that, if you have a Leaf (we prefer cars to be called things like ‘Mustang’ and ‘Cobra’, but we can see what they’re doing here), you’ll be able to charge up your vehicle when the electricity is cheaper, or at low-demand – if you have some energy left over, you can give it to your house or, if you prefer, send it back to the National Grid and get yourself some money in the process.
A Nissan spokesperson said: “With the introduction [of the technology], we can empower motorists to take control of their energy mix, stimulating greater use of renewable power, and offering significant financial rewards for those who make the switch to electric. The personal benefits of innovations like this are clear.”
This car is being built in Sunderland, and Nissan have developed a more powerful battery pack, which means you won’t have to charge your car for (between) 120 miles and 155 miles. Great, if true.
And topping the table of craptitude is Co-operative Energy! They’re blaming problems with their new IT system, as they look at the stats which show they’ve got themselves the highest complaint rate ever recorded in a quarterly customer service league table.
This ranking has been compiled by Citizens Advice, who saw the best results from SSE, and their depressed orangutan mascot.
Regarding Co-op, the main crux of the complaints focused on switching failures, problems with billing, and people being locked out of their accounts for no good reason. The company say: ”This data is from July, August and September 2015 when unexpected issues relating to the implementation of our new IT system were at their peak.”
“Since then, we have fully resolved 93% of complaints that were referred to the Ombudsman and are working through any remaining issues. The level of service our customers now receive has significantly improved. Call response times have halved over the past six weeks and we have recruited and trained over 100 new customer service staff.”
“We are making further improvements to ensure our customers receive the high level of service they expect and deserve.”
Of course, you’ll know that this isn’t the first time an energy company has annoyed everyone with a new billing system - Npower had to give free energy to customers, after they had issues with billing systems (and they were hauled over the coals for the way they dealt with complaints too).
ScottishPower were hit with a sales ban for failing to meet customer service targets too. They fared better in the new CA table, reducing their complaints level significantly.
Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said: “Good customer service is essential to any effective industry. The fact energy consumers face such a lottery shows this market has a long way to go. While it’s encouraging to see some companies sharpening up their act, some firms at the bottom are getting even worse.”
The folks at E.ON have been told to cough-up £7m after missing a target for delivering advanced electricity meters to their business customers. Watchdog Ofgem warned the energy company that there might be more penalties, which happens to include another £7m fine and a potential for a sales ban, if they don’t sort out their ‘poor record’.
Other energy companies would be wise to take heed.
Ofgem said that E.ON had been set a target in 2009, to fit and supply around 20,000 business customers the meters, but the company didn’t complete the job. This was part of a roll-out designed to modernise the energy sector, and of course, help customers to get better service by having smart meters, so they can control their bills and usage.
The watchdog aren’t happy with E.ON and said that the energy firm was “unable to demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to fulfil its required meter rollout”. It added: “The supplier failed to plan and monitor its roll-out and its senior management didn’t do enough to ensure it complied.”
“E.ON has also gained financially by avoiding the costs of installing and operating the new meters.”
The regulator warned that, if E.ON were “not compliant” after a further six months, then they might be hit with a sales ban. As for the current £7m fine, the money will go to the Carbon Trust, which who offer energy saving audits and advice, and installs energy efficiency measures for smaller companies.
A spokesman for E.ON said: “Installing advanced meters to tens of thousands of business customers across the country was always going to be a significant challenge and one that threw up a variety of hurdles for suppliers to overcome. That said, we cannot, and will not, overlook the fact that we did not do enough in time to meet the deadline and in that regard failed to provide the efficient service our business customers demand and deserve.”
“In the last 18 months we have made some further progress and we have invested heavily in increasing our capability and we are taking all reasonable steps to get these meters installed.”
Anthony Pygram, Ofgem senior partner with responsibility for enforcement said: “It’s unacceptable that E.ON failed to roll out advanced meters to these business customers on time.”
“Customers have lost out on receiving better information about their energy consumption and the opportunity to control costs. Unless E.ON improves their poor record, they will have to pay out even more and may face a sales ban.”
“The roll-out of advanced meters has the potential to transform the energy market. We expect all suppliers to learn the lessons from this ahead of the domestic smart-meter roll-out, in particular the need to start the process in good time and ensure senior managers are committed to delivering on time.”
British Gas and Npower are next on Ofgem’s list.
Have you heard about the Government Electricity Rebate (GER)? Well, in their own words, “it is a £12 government contribution to help lower the impacts of these Government environmental and social policy costs on consumer energy bills. It is part of a wider package of measures which will reduce household energy bills by an average of around £50 per year in 2014 and 2015.”
Got that? No? Well, no rush, because in due time, you’ll get the Government Electricity Rebate directly from your electricity supplier. It is rolling out over Autumn, and most households won’t need to do anything to get the rebate as it’ll happen automatically.
Some people, for example those living in park homes, aren’t eligible for this rebate, but everyone else is. If you get your electricity through a pre-payment meter, you may need to actively redeem the rebate yourself. Your supplier will inform you and you’ll probably get a voucher which you can swap for credit, or your supplier might send an automatic rebate to your electronic credit, which will hit when you top up.
If you think you should be getting a rebate, but haven’t, then you need to contact your supplier and see what they’re playing at.
The National Grid revealed that the forecast capacity margin – that’s the difference between the supply that’s available, and the predicted peak demand – is at a measly 1.2%.
The energy botherers said that there’s an “increased likelihood” they are going to have to use their “contingency balancing services”, so they can keep the country’s power on over the next few months. There’ll be riots if the power goes off while Christmas dinner is being cooked.
So, in a bid to stop us all from sitting in the dark and having to talk to each other, the National Grid has had to kick up some power stations to give us all some extra power, even though the plants in question have been mothballed.
Seriously. 2015 in a developed country and we’re looking at blackouts. Preposterous. Is that how bad our infrastructure has got? Someone boot the Government up the arses to sort this out. That said, there’s no point talking to them, as the government want to close nine power stations by the end of 2016.
The GMB, big fans of the Tories, clearly, said: “We have the bonkers position where National Grid is using consumers’ money to pay firms to stop work in order to avoid winter blackouts. [It] hides this farce with the phrase ‘energy balancing’. That and bringing unused, inefficient power production back into operation are the special measures National Grid is being forced to rely on to keep the lights on, and the cost is added to consumers’ bills.”
The government have actually commissioned EDF and two Chinese firms to create a new £24.5bn nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, but that won’t be giving us power for a decade yet.
Stock up on candles, and buy a camping stove, eh?
Lightbulbs. The plastic carrier bags of the energy-saving world (doing a perfectly fine job, but an easy target for Energy Saving Measures) have been fiddled with for years, with the EU banning normal incandescent bulbss back in 2011. Even the supposedly better Halogen bulbs are scheduled for extinction in a few years’ time, but the standard replacement CFL (compact fluorescent) lights aren’t actually bright enough to find your way to bed at night. So what is the crack with energy-saving blubs and should we just bite the bullet and replace our bulbs now- while we’ve still enough light to do so?
At the moment you have three options for bulbs- halogen, CFL and LEDs, although halogen bulbs were doomed to go the way of incandescent bulbs in 2016, although they have earned a stay of execution from the EU until 2018 so far. You can’t even work out what bulbs you need in watts as (being part of the point) the watts used by the old incandescent bulbs far exceeded the equivalent energy use of the new bulbs; here’s a handy conversion table using the new-fangled notion of lumens:
Obviously, LEDs are by far the lowest energy guzzlers- and they also last the longest at around 25,000 hours of use. So why don’t we all immediately switch? Well, LED bulbs are also the most expensive. Nevertheless, there has to be a point at which it’s worthwhile making the switch, doesn’t there?
The handy folks over at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) worked out the equivalent running costs of using the three different types of bulb if you had the lights on all the time, or for six hours per day, as well as the comparable cost per bulb.
As you can see, using LED bulbs saves a little over £4 per year in energy but costs £6 more than CFL bulbs, meaning it would take two years to be better off, but at least you would be able to see (a main complaint against CFL bulbs is how long it takes them to get to (so-called) full brightness, even though the CSE now boasts that modern lights can get up to 70% bright inside one whole minute). And if you compare against the halogen bulb, you need to remember that while you’d manage a year’s continuous use with one LED or CFL bulb, you’d need at least four (and probably five) halogen bulb, meaning the cost of the bulbs is similar, but the energy bill saving is actually over £46 compared with LEDs. No wonder councils are retro-fitting all their lights with LEDs…
But who actually has the lights on all the time? If you look at the figures for six hours use a day, the actual cash savings are far lower, and it would take five years to earn back the extra cost of an LED compared with a CFL bulb. When looking at Halogen, you’d probably squeak by with one bulb too, but even so, the cost saving on your bills for one year will more than cover the extra cost of the bulb.
So it seems that, despite annoying EU nudge tactics, LED will be the way to go, purely from a protecting your pocket point of view. Only problem, of course, is how much it costs to change all your fancy light fittings