It’s the news thousands of customers have suspected for years – particularly in the wake of last week’s revelations that the profits that energy companies make from their customers is eight times higher now than it was in June, according to the regulator Ofgem.
In an undercover probe, the consumer group phoned each of the six major energy suppliers 12 times in one week and asked for the cheapest deal. In nearly a third of the calls the firms ripped off customers by failing to offer them their cheapest tariff.
“It’s unacceptable for sales staff to give information that’s plain wrong or confusing,” says Which? executive director Richard Lloyd. The best firms were Npower and Eon, who both told investigators about their cheapest tariff and highlighted relevant exit fees in most calls.
Southern Electric scored badly - its telesales staff only mentioned its cheapest tariff in three of the 12 calls. And seven of the EDF Energy sales assistants recommended its more expensive, fixed-rate deals instead of its cheaper online tariff.
Overall, a third of the telesales staff didn’t mention the exit fees of up to £60 that are charged if customers choose to leave certain tariffs early.
Which? adds that British Gas staff offered its cheapest tariff in most calls but offered wildly varying cashback deals alongside this tariff, ranging from £0 to £175. One caller from a London postcode was offered £125 cashback, whilst another from the same postcode was offered nothing.
To avoid being trapped, never swap energy deals on the phone, or on your doorstep – although British Gas and Scottish and Southern Energy have now permanently ended the use of unsolicited doorstep sales of gas and electricity contracts.
Either compare the deals online, or, once you’ve made initial contact on the phone, ask the assistant to send you all the details about the policy options. Check for exit fees and ask whether it’s cheaper to pay by direct debit or manage your account online – it almost always is.
“Compare all the available offers using an independent comparison website or phone line to get the best deal,” adds Lloyd. “Switching is actually much easier to do than you might think and can save you money.”