UK Energy regulator and consumer group differ over switching

21 May 2002 – UK Consumers should follow the example of more than a third of gas and electricity customers who have so far switched their supplier to get the best deal possible on their energy bills, urged UK energy regulator Ofgem today.

Chief Executive, Callum McCarthy, said, “Competition in gas and electricity is a huge success story with hundreds of thousands of customers a month switching their supplier. 90 per cent of people who have switched have found the process very easy or easy, so we would urge those people who have not done so to think seriously about switching to save money on their gas and electricity bills.”

But consumer group Energy Watch has hit back claiming that high pressure direct selling was turning-off consumers from considering switching and was working against competition.

The comments were supported by figures released today in a survey, conducted for Energywatch by NOP World. The survey reveals that 72 per cent of consumers have been directly approached by an energy sales agent, with half of consumers having been approached on their doorstep.

However, the survey also shows that direct selling by energy companies puts consumers under pressure and that, as a result, consumers are keen to avoid any future contact with energy sales agents.

Currently 15 million customers have switched supplier. Hundreds of thousands of customers continue to switch every month, each saving up to à‚£100 a year, claimed Ofgem

Ofgem said it intends to continue to tackling unscrupulous direct selling tactics. It unveiled plans for tough new measures to bring offending companies into line. It has pledged to:

* establish new complaints thresholds which, if exceeded, will result in immediate action against the company concerned
* tighten the deadlines on companies to get their act in order, and
* use its new powers to fine if the problem cannot be resolved.

Callum McCarthy said, “Ofgem is determined that the industry continues to keep its house in order. Our new measures will make the enforcement process very clear for suppliers, which means they will have no excuses if they fail to meet the high standards we expect of them. In the meantime, the small minority who experience difficulties should not put off people from switching, which continues to offer people big savings.”

Ann Robinson, Chair of Energywatch said ‘The survey supports our view that consumers’ experience of direct selling is turning people off from switching supplier. If only 1 per cent of consumers are keen for an energy company to contact them again, the whole idea of direct selling is in trouble. “

Energy watch has invited energy companies to a summit meeting to set an agenda for change that will eradicate the problem of fraudulent and high pressure direct selling.

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