The long read: How I helped break the power of the Big Six

Here’s my competitive energy market story

For years I am an Npower customer. I switched – I know the basics! – but a while ago. Although it regularly comes low down on price and customer satisfaction rankings, I don’t use that much energy and the company is no trouble. I never bother them and they never bother me. It’s fine.

But I am writing about this stuff and I know I should be a more active consumer. Besides, people ask me, and sorry Npower, but it is a bit embarassing to mention you to industry members. So I switch again.

I switch to green energy from First Utility and they are also fine. I have to send them meter readings regularly, but the alternative is a Smets1 meter and I think it is better to wait for Smets 2.

By now I am a very savvy customer. Not only have I switched twice already, but I know that First Utility thinks everyone should switch annually, as with motor insurance. What is more, I know FU’s tariff steps straight up to a very high Standard Variable Tariff when the one-year fix is over. I actually make a note in my diary to get ready to switch at the end of the year.

I switch to Solarplicity. Low renewables tariff and a frankly ridiculous number of FREE low energy lightbulbs as well. This is exactly the kind of thing I want from competition: green energy and a chance to reduce my bills permanently (and my extended family as well – it is a ridiculous number of FREE low energy bulbs). And although it is far down the customer saisfaction tables, I’ll only be there for a year,

Later I am pleased – I don’t have to decide whether it is okay to have Shell as a green energy supplier, after Shell buys out First Utility. I’m winning.

But would it surprise you if I say my FREE low energy bulbs never arrive? After much nagging, in the end I give up and go to the Obudsman Service. Impressive work: £200 credit on my account (actually credited) and a promise to send the bulbs soon (never happens).

Now I have a problem. It’s the end of the year (note in my diary etc) and I am well over £200 in credit with Solarplicity. There is no way I will get that back (believe me, I ask). But wait: Solarplicity has a few enforcement actions from Ofgem and is still dropping down the Citizens Advice customer service ranking. I have a hunch it is about to go bust and a new supplier might honour my credit. I cut my direct debit to zero and sit tight.

Some months later and my hunch proves correct. Solarplicity disposes of most its customers to Toto Energy. Credit balances honoured.

I can’t say I’m impressed by my new supplier - I’m still over £200 in credit and Toto won’t allow a zero direct debit, because they don’t have any information on my account (‘Solarplicity haven’t sent it yet’). But at least my meter readings are being recorded now. I have a familar hunch – Toto will have a problem adding all us new customers, especially if we are all in ‘credit’ and not paying enough to cover Toto’s bills. And it was a ‘book sale’, not a Supplier of Last Resort (SOLR) process, so no costs will be mutualised. I decide to sit tight again. There is no way that Toto will give me my credit back. It is getting colder but after all, my bills are covered, and I can switch when the winter has eaten away my credit.

Toto Energy goes bust. That’s okay, I am in the SOLR process. Mildly interested to find out: who is my supplier now?

Now I know: EDF Energy.

I’ve done my best to help break the power of the Big Six, as instructed by a succession of regulators, energy ministers, etc, but I’m not sure it has been truly successful. I’ve been switched back despite my best efforts, with some costs mutualised on the way. If I had switched to SSE I would soon be a customer of Ovo’s.

Did I take a wrong step?

Still no FREE low energy lightbulbs.








1 comment for “The long read: How I helped break the power of the Big Six

  1. Jo Gilbert
    October 28, 2019 at 8:09 AM

    Great read Janet, I thought exactly the same yesterday when I read EDF had been appointed. 134k customers made the effort to leave a Big6 supplier at some point much like yourself and ended up right back where they started.

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