British Gas profits down by over a quarter

July 31st, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

british gas British Gas profits down by over a quarter Oh dear – seems there’s trouble at t’energy mill – namely at British Gas, who announced a profit slide of 26% in the first half of this year.

BG are blaming the mild weather for the slump. CEO Sam Laidlaw put down his chalice of claret and medium rare Wagyu steak and said:

‘With challenging trading conditions on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half, earnings will be lower in 2014 than in 2013. However, the group is well positioned to return to growth in 2015.’

However, operating profits dropping by a quarter is quite a big deal, isn’t it? And this is despite Ofgem arguing that energy suppliers are making more profit than ever off the average home – it goes up to £106 per household this year.

As the Big Six are coming under increasing pressure over household bills, not to mention the massive investigation into profits by the CMA, things must be getting a bit heated at BG.

Do we feel sorry for them that their profits are down?

Sorry, we can’t hear you for the cheering…

ofgem logo1 Energy bills to fall by £12 a year – maybe Rejoice, rejoice! It looks like we’re set to save…er…£12 a year on our energy bills thanks to new Ofgem rules to cap spending on British power networks. We’re rich! Rich beyond our wildest dreams!

Ofcom has approved a £17bn upgrade for the UK’s electricity networks over the next eight years – but customers will save because the budget is lower than the energy companies have previously been allowed to spend.

£111 of our annual fuel bill is currently set aside to pay for network upgrading and maintenance. Ofgem say this will drop to £99 under the new cap.

But not everybody will save the same amount. It depends on what company runs the power network in your area. In the North West you could be getting a saving of £26, while customers in the South East might only get a piddling £5.

And also there’s no actual guarantee we’ll see this mythical £12 saving at all, as apparently private companies are quibbling with Ofgem about other aspects of the bill.

But, you know, we’ll take what we can get. Now all we have to do is find something to spend this imaginary £5-26 (or maybe £12 on). But don’t go mad at the shops, because you might not get it at all.

Ain’t life grand?

sse Its payback time for SSE after winter storm cock ups Ofgem has slapped SSE and UK Power Networks on the wrist for their inept handling of last year’s winter storm damage, and ordered them to pay out an extra £3.3million to the people affected – that’s on top of the £4.7m they’ve already paid.

Ofgem added that they would be doubling the minimum amount energy companies should pay out for storm-a-geddon power fails and warned that energy companies need to pull their fingers out and get their customers re-connected more efficiently.

They said that SSE and UKPN ‘could have done more to get customers reconnected faster and to keep them better updated on what was happening.’

Last year, thousands of SSE customers were reduced to shivering in the dark and huddling around a candle on Christmas Eve, but Ofgem said although SSE and UKPN were specifically and adversely affected by the weather, they were a bit crap at fixing things.

Meanwhile, SSE has reported a loss of 110,000 customers over the last three months. But they’re still not exactly cash strapped. It’s reporting a slight rise in earnings per share.

Will the Big Six profit bandwagon ever be derailed? Only the Competition and Markets Authority knows the answer…

energy Competition watchdog publishes report on energy marketThe folks at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have published their report into the energy market.

Are you all set to have your mind blown? Ready to be told things that will make you scream with glee that someone is on your side?

The CMA have identified opaque pricing, the dominance of utilities and an uncompetitive retail market as the main negative factors of the industry.

Doesn’t that feel amazing? Finally, someone is sticking up for us all! They’ve translated our feelings into a succinct report! And, obviously, we should hand the CMA a degree in stating the bleedin’ obvious.

Their investigation into the energy market isn’t finished yet and they’ll publish a final one before Christmas Day in 2015.

“We are looking to identify the underlying causes, at both wholesale and retail level, which could be leading to the widespread concerns that have surrounded this market in recent years – including rising energy bills, service quality, profitability and uncertainty over future investment,” said Roger Witcomb, chairman of the Energy Market Investigation Group.

The CMA statement said they’d spotted “four candidate theories of harm” which explain how market characteristics were adversely affecting competition. Shall we break them down?

- Opaque prices and low-level liquidity in wholesale power and gas create barriers to entry in retail and generation.

   - Vertically integrated electricity companies harm the competitive position of non-integrated firms to the detriment of customers.

   - Market power in electricity generation leads to higher prices.

   - “Energy suppliers face weak incentives to compete in retail markets, due in particular to inactive customers, supplier behaviour and/or regulatory interventions.”

So in short, the Big Six aren’t keen on telling us how they come up with their prices, there’s not enough competition to get the prices down, it is too hard for new energy companies to start up and people can’t be bothered to switch suppliers because they’re all rubbish. You knew that. Everyone knew that.

“This is a market which is very complex so it is important at an early stage to focus the investigation on the most relevant issues,” said Witcomb.

sse Everyone ditches SSE regardless of price freezeSSE decided to freeze the price of energy in a bid to woo customers who are sick of the sight of them. However, it didn’t work as there’s been a mass-exodus of customers.

SSE have seen 110,000 people ditching them in the three months since they announced their freeze.

They blame “very competitive market conditions” for the losses.

What’s worse is that SSE had already lost 370,000 customer accounts in the year to March and these losses will heap yet more pressure on the energy giant to cut prices further, especially given that everyone now knows that there’s been falls in wholesale electricity and gas costs.

However, that’s not likely to happen, mainly because energy companies are all complete arseholes. In the case of SSE, they have a further excuse – they’ve already bought most of their energy further in advance than normal, which means customers will be locked into higher prices. Well done SSE.

Will Morris, SSE group managing director for retail, said: “We operate in a very competitive market and, as you would expect, different supply companies take different approaches and have different propositions.”

“There are some short-term offers available at the moment, which a limited number of customers can benefit from. These offers will come and go, but SSE is offering all customers the long-term certainty that its standard prices will not go up until at least 2016. Things can change very quickly in energy; this is an unprecedented long-term commitment and it should be judged over the long term.”

No. You’ll be judged over your prices and whether or not people can afford them.

energy Ofgem say not switching energy companies is costing you £200mThe people at Ofgem have done a study which says the 9 million people renting in the UK are losing out to the tune of £200 million. They say renters are less likely to shop around, so they’re getting stiffed on deals.

This data was gathered from Ofgem’s incredibly exciting ’2014 Consumer Engagement survey’ which showed that three-quarters of tenants have never switched supplier and one in five isn’t aware that they are able to.

Dermot Nolan, Ofgem’s CEO, said: “The number of British households renting stands at 9 million and counting, yet research has shown that this group is not shopping around for their energy, and missing out on savings of up to £200.”

Their maths, not ours, just in case any of you lot start moaning.

Weirdly, it seems that there’s a lot of people out there who think they are stuck with the energy supplier who provide their utilities on the day they move in. Even if your landlord takes care of the bills and your rent is all-inclusive, you can still shop around and ask them to go cheaper if you want.

This is all part of Ofgem’s “Be an Energy Shopper” campaign, which hopes to help consumers realise that they aren’t in a situation that is akin to an energy company chaining them to a radiator and waiting for Stockholm Syndrome to kick in.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, said: “These findings are worrying, particularly given the dramatic rise in the number of people having to rent as they can’t afford to get onto the property ladder. Renters need all the help they can get to keep costs down and switching energy provider is an extremely easy way to reduce their monthly bills.”

“Ofgem’s campaign to clear up tenants’ misconceptions about their rights is a step in the right direction, but more should be done. We call on landlords and letting agents to provide all new tenants with information on their current energy provider and remind them of their right to switch. This will empower renters to make an informed choice about who provides their energy.”

Surprise! npower complaints double!

July 10th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

npower logo Surprise! npower complaints double!You’ll probably die of shock when you find out that complaints about npower and Scottish Power doubled in the first quarter of 2014, so we can only pray that you were sitting down when you found out.

It seems new billing systems have caused all kinds of problems for customers, but really, there would’ve been complaints either way because, especially in the case of npower, it looks like they’re actively trolling everyone now.

Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland said complaints about npower rose from 306.8 for every 100,000 customers to 592, in the last quarter of 2013. In fact, complaints about all suppliers increased in the first quarter. They really couldn’t care less could they? They can afford the fines and no-one is looking like they’re going to do anything about it.

Have the Big Six got blackmail files on Cameron and Clegg? Dirty Polaroids and taped conversations with sex-workers or something? That’s the only explanation for their Teflon state of mind.

Last month, Ofgem warned npower to sort out their billing balls-ups by the close of August, or stop all telesales activity. Ofgem are also investigating npower’s failings as a whole, but you get the impression that between the CA and Ofgem, npower will work a way around it.

The chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said: “The knock-on effect of poor billing systems can turn household budgets upside down. Many people do not have the spare cash to cover the cost of a large bill that suddenly lands on their doorstep.”

“While we recognise npower is receiving more complaints because it is starting to get over some of the earlier issues, it needs to do more to stop consumers’ problems escalating. Offering repayment plans and discussing ways they can help consumers will nip issues in the bud and remove the need to complain.”

“Scottish Power has an opportunity to learn from other suppliers’ billing system failures and address these problems now so more consumers won’t have cause for complaint.”

“A rise in complaints about all suppliers is concerning. Suppliers won’t win the trust of customers back unless they show they understand what consumers need, recognise the financial pressures many people are under and are able to sort out problems quickly. This is something that all suppliers can act on.”

british gas 300x199 British Gas to pay £1million in compensation for mis selling to customersEnergy providers are already public enemy number one, and now Ofgem  has underlined the point by allowing British Gas to pay out a total of £1million in compensation to people it mis-sold its energy to. You might wonder how energy can be mis-sold, after all, you will actually get gas and electricity from them. However, the offences in question concern salespeople lying about ‘exaggerating’ the amount of savings that could be earned by switching to British Gas.

The mis-selling took place in Sainsbury’s stores nationwide and in Westfield shopping centre, Shepherds Bush. In addition, staff and branding in Sainsbury’s stores did not make clear that British Gas was the supply partner for Sainsbury’s Energy, thereby fooling all those who already had an axe to grind with British Gas.

Ofgem has today revealed that, between February 2011 and March 2013, British Gas staff in Sainsbury’s stores and Westfield shopping centre made exaggerated savings claims to prospective customers. It seems some unscrupulous sales staff did not compare tariffs on a like for like basis, even going so far as to compare monthly direct debit payments with quarterly payment methods to produce inaccurate savings estimates. This shocking underhandedness meant that, unsurprisingly, some customers were told that they would save money by switching, but in fact they paid more with Sainsbury’s Energy or British Gas than they would have paid if they had remained with their current supplier.

To be fair to British Gas, they identified the issue and voluntarily reported it to Ofgem in April 2013, taking immediate action to correct the issues. Ofgem therefore decided to accept British Gas’ compensatory offer in lieu of opening a formal investigation.

British Gas has identified customers who were potentially mis-sold to and has made an average payment of £130 to 4,300 affected customers. It was unable to contact around 1,300 ex-customers, so £434,000 in compensation will be paid to the British Gas Energy Trust to directly benefit customers. Rather than the ex-customers who got shafted.

Sarah Harrison, Senior Partner in charge of enforcement said: “Ofgem welcomes British Gas’ action to tackle its sales failures and compensate customers quickly when it became aware of mis-selling. Ofgem expects all suppliers to put this poor behaviour behind them and really start acting in a way that will help consumers trust energy suppliers. Where they don’t, Ofgem will act.” Or sometimes, Ofgem will allow energy companies to define their own crimes and decide their own punishment…

We’re going to pay for Britain’s repairs

July 1st, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

energy Were going to pay for Britains repairsBritain’s infrastructure is looking a bit tatty, so our beloved government have to carry out an independent assessment of the ability of us lot, to see if we can afford to cough-up the extra £250bn which will be added to our household bills modernise the things that give us water and energy.

Above inflation increases means we’re all going to get hammered, especially people on lower incomes.

It will be of zero surprise to anyone with at least one eye and a handful of rudimentary braincells that Britain needs major upgrades to services like energy, water, communications and transport.

The government think that energy bills will rise by 18% by 2030, because obviously, they haven’t gone up enough already.

Margaret Hodge, Labour MP said: “No one seems to be sticking up for the consumer in all this. This is of particular concern given that the poorest households are hit hardest by increases in bills. Poorer households spend more of their incomes on household bills relative to richer households, meaning that funding infrastructure through bills is more regressive than doing so through taxation.”

Hodge’s committee’s report – the excitingly titled ‘Investment: the impact on consumer bills’, Hodge said: “A staggering £375bn of investment is needed to replace the country’s ageing infrastructure, help meet policy commitments such as climate change targets, and meet the long-term needs of a growing population. It is the consumer – through their various bills – that is expected to fund at least two-thirds of this investment where the infrastructure is financed, built, owned and operated by private companies. Currently, consumers rely solely on government and regulators to protect their interests. But it doesn’t take much nous to work out that this is going to have a tough impact on the consumer.”

The short version is this: Wages aren’t going up, but everything else is.

The Treasury countered arguments against them and said: “The country will pay a heavy price if we don’t invest in the infrastructure essential for our future. The National Infrastructure Plan provides unprecedented certainty about what those investments are and making sure they are built in a way that delivers value for consumers and taxpayers is at the centre of it. The analysis in the PAC report fails to make a proper assessment of this.”

You can only assume that the only ‘unprecedented certainty’ in all of this is that those who win the contracts to take on all this work will have a strong connection to the Prime Minister and his pals, because that’s how all the big jobs are divvied out.

How much does being on Standby cost you?

June 30th, 2014 11 Comments By Thewlis

plug socket How much does being on Standby cost you?Everyone knows by now that leaving things on stand by means we are using unnecessary energy. When this first became news, we were all living in our pre-financial crisis utopias, waving wads of cash like Loadsamoney, and doing something just to save the environment was a bit of a hard sell.

Now, of course, we are way more money-savvy, and many people will already take those extra few seconds to turn the switch off rather than leave appliances in eternal standby- assuming there is an actual off button that is. Other things merely need to remain plugged in to be sucking away at your electricity, meaning an energy-intensive crouch to switch off at the wall or unplug is required to minimise those bills.

The Energy Saving Trust has already estimated that each household literally burns good money to the tune of around £80 a year by leaving appliances on standby but now green energy provider Ecotricity has only gone and calculated which specific appliances are costing you the most dosh.

Top of the power-muching pops is actually wireless routers, a modern day necessity that we cannot live without.  And an extra £21.92 a year to save the thing rebooting every time you turn it on, not to mention all that blue-light web surfing in bed, is probably not too much to ask. But what about shelling out £18.92 a year to leave your laser printer on? Surely that’s worth the flick of a switch?

At the bottom end are things like night lights (73p per year), electric toothbrushes (they have plugs?) and modern monitors and TVs. Confusingly, however, a mobile phone charger uses  a modest £2.44 a year, but an iPad charger uses a greedy £12.18; iPhone 5+ owners will wonder which amount applies to then, given the lightning charger charges both mobile phone and iPad…

The full list of appliances is shown below. So now if you only have three seconds’ worth of spare time for unplugging, you know the order of priority to save you the most on your energy bill.

Annual energy usage while on standby:

Wireless Router (e.g. BT Hub) – £21.92
Printer (Laser) – £18.26
Set-top (Satellite) – £18.26
Amplifier – £12.18
Compact Hi-Fi – £12.18
iPad charger – £12.18
Nintendo Wii – £12.18
Set-top box (Freeview) – £7.31
Alarm Clock – £6.09
Microsoft Xbox 360 – £6.09
Modem – £6.09
Sony PlayStation 3 – £6.09
Air freshener plug-in – £4.87
CD player / Tuner – £4.87
Television (Plasma) – £4.87
Video Player – £4.87
Inkjet printer – £4.26
Desktop PC – £3.65
Nintendo DS – £3.65
Oven (Electric) – £3.65
Microwave – £3.04
Television (CRT & LCD) – £3.04
Mobile phone charger – £2.44
PC monitor (CRT) – £2.44
Electric toothbrush – £1.22
Childs night light – £0.73

energy bills 300x300 ‘Once and for all’ energy investigation begins It’s a day of reckoning for the money grabbing energy companies, as Ofgem has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate their profits and prices.

The referral means there’ll be some serious explaining to do and the investigation is due to start immediately.

*rubs hands with glee*

Every member of the Big Six – British Gas, SSE, Npower, EDF, Scottish Power and E. On – will be crapping themselves as the probe tries to determine ‘once and for all’ whether they are making excess profits.

Dermot Nolan, Ofgem chief executive, said: ‘Prices have risen more than they should have, we believe, over the last few years. Profits have risen, prices have risen, margins have risen.
Competition is not working well, consumers are probably paying more than they should have and we need to put in step a process that is going to force competition to drive costs down.’

The investigation will take about a year, and if they find that the Big Six have ripped customers off, the companies will be broken up, and all those energy fat cats will have to go on the scrounge.

If the companies were right, and wholesale prices, energy infrastructure and all that jazz were driving the price rises all along, we’ll have to find something else to moan about.

But something tells us they’ll only have to take one look at all those Chateaubriand dinners and enormous pay packets, and the decision will be clear…

emoticon Smiley faces can be used to help cut energy bills Because we’re all stupid apes, apparently our subconscious responds to smiley face or sad face emoticons. And equally, we all have an innate desire to keep up with the Jones’.

A study by Sustainable Homes used both emojis and good old fashioned shame to encourage people to use less energy – giving them a smiley if they’d saved and a sad face if they’d left the iron, the hairdryer and the oven on all night.

And it worked.

In the study – which recruited 450 households over 14 housing associations in England – people saved up to £80 on their bills when they were shown the emoticons based on their household energy use.

They were sent smileys if they used less energy than other similar households, and sad faces if they were using more. The ones that were using more were so ashamed that they soon started to use less, to keep within the norm.

Andrew Eagles of Sustainable Homes said: ”These findings will be of great interest to anyone concerned with cutting energy bills – which, of course, is most of us. We know that people are always keen to save money, but what this study uncovers is that their natural desire for approval is at least as important, and probably more so.”

So sod the scare stories about climate change – just compare people to their neighbours and watch those meters stop spinning…

Ofgem tells npower to ‘sort it out’

June 20th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

npower logo Ofgem tells npower to sort it outnpower have got to get their shit together, or face being banned on telephone sales.

The company has to address the billing palavers of their 400,000 customers by August, after instruction by regulator Ofgem.

The energy company have long been a concern, with issuing bills long after customers had fled their service, when that sort of thing should be done within six weeks, under the regulators rules.

The ban facing npower would affect their cold-calling, where energy companies win most of their new customers.

They admitted last September that a computer glitch caused by a new billing system had caused various problems with around 700,000 customer accounts.

Which!!! revealed that npower received 83 complaints for every 1,000 customers in the first quarter of this year – the highest number among The Big Six energy companies.

This is a sharp jump from the 49 complaints per 1,000 at the same time last year, almost hilariously so. They’re just trolling everyone now, right?

Shock as Big Six complaints soar

June 18th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

article 1725351 07264249000005DC 817 468x286 300x183 Shock as Big Six complaints soarYou’re never going to believe this – the number of complaints against the Big Six energy firms have gone through the roof to new records in the last quarter as customers vent spleen over lousy service from our beloved energy companies.

They really are just trolling everyone now aren’t they?

They received 1.7 million complaints, which is the highest number in a single quarter since records began, up 15% on the same time last year.

The swine at npower received 83 complaints for every 1,000 customers in the first quarter of 2014 (they topped the league). The same time last year, they were getting 49 complaints per 1,000. Looks like they’re trying to double the amount of complaints, eh? Meanwhile, SSE, British Gas and E.On all received roughly 30 complaints per 1,000 customers. Scottish Power received the fewest with 13 for every 1,000.

Of course, Which!!! had something to say on the matter.

Their executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “Yet again millions of customers are being let down by poor service from the Big Six energy companies. This has to change.”

“If they want to improve the low level of consumer trust in the energy market, suppliers must up their game now, rather than wait for the results of a competition review.”

Now, for the laughs. An Energy UK spokesman said, without a trace of irony: “Most customers are happy with their energy provider. But, in an industry which serves 27 million households, sometimes things can go wrong. Most issues just take just a call to fix even though all problems – large and small – are lumped together. But all problems, no matter how minor, are important and if a customer has any concerns about their service, they should contact their supplier as soon as they can.”

“No one wants to see complaints rise, but the industry uses this information to improve its service. Anyone with a problem needs to contact their supplier before they do anything else.”

Forget petrol! Fuel your car with coffee!

June 17th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

coffee addict  300x272 Forget petrol! Fuel your car with coffee!Researchers from the University of Bath have found that leftover coffee grinds could well be used to power your motorcars.

They’ve been getting waste coffee and turning it into biodiesel by extracting oil from it and then using a chemical process called ‘transesterification’.

Seeing as fossil fuels is really bad for the environment, we need to find a substitute that is kinder and altogether nicer… and the coffee industry is completely problem-free and doesn’t come at the expensive of humans at all.

Dr Chris Chuck, from the university’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, said: “Around eight million tonnes of coffee are produced globally each year and ground waste coffee contains up to 20 per cent oil per unit weight.”

“This oil also has similar properties to current feedstocks used to make biofuels. But, while those are cultivated specifically to produce fuel, spent coffee grounds are waste. Using these, there’s a real potential to produce a truly sustainable second-generation biofuel.”

This will be music to Starbucks’ ears. They’ll be looking at setting up fuel stations that play Paulo Nutini albums on the forecourts all over the world.

A regular-sized coffee shop produces around 10kg of coffee waste per day, which translates into around two litres of biofuel. There’s also gigantic amounts of grinds produced by the coffee bean roasting industry.

If they can make the fuel smell like freshly brewed coffee, we’re onto a winner here… but it’s more likely to smell like liquid faeces isn’t it?