How to use energy price comparison sites ...
Unlike most competitive industries, the products from rival energy suppliers are not just similar but literally identical. Whomever your supplier, you get the same gas and electricity through the pipes and cables. This means that, aside from customer service, price is the only real difference, making it much easier to produce objective comparisons and an ideal product for price comparison websites.
How do the energy comparison sites make money?
Sites receive a commission when a user looks at results and chooses to switch their supplier through the site. Commissions vary but can be as much as £50 a time. Not all companies will offer an individual site commission.
Do all sites show the same results?
Not necessarily. The information the sites work from is the same (though some update more frequently than others), but they may use different methods for interpreting and displaying that information.
Are the sites misleading?
This can be the case, but it is changing over time. There's now a growing argument that a comparison site should always treat every supplier in the same way. For example, if it lists a discounted price from one supplier it should do so for all suppliers. This avoids any accusation that the site is favouring a company which has offered it commission.
How do I know which sites are reliable?
Energywatch, which is part of a wider organization known as Consumer Focus, operates a voluntary code of conduct which requires sites to be independent, include all domestic tariffs in their charts, include "green" tariffs, explain the prices available with different pricing methods, and avoid comparisons using prices which are special offers or require particular behaviour from the customer.
Sites which follow this code can display a "Consumer Focus Confidence Code" logo. At the time of writing, all of the energy price comparison services below are registered with the Consumer Focus Confidence Code. For an up to date listing, visit the Consumer Focus website.
How might sites flout these rules?
One site was set up so that the default results only showed suppliers where the customer could switch online (thus earning the site commission), with other suppliers only viewable by tweaking settings. The site was threatened with expulsion from the scheme until it switched its set-up so that all suppliers appeared in the default view.
How do I get the best results?
Wherever possible, choose the option to input your usage data through the actual number of units of electricity or gas you have used. This will make sure the comparison is as accurate as possible. Try to avoid simply listing the amount you've spent, particularly if you pay a fixed direct debit amount. It may be that this amount is much higher or lower than you should actually be paying (and hasn't been picked up on by the supplier yet), which may mean a comparison based on that amount isn't suitable for you.
When is the best time to consider switching?
It's worth checking at least once a year: this will keep you up to speed on any changes in the market, and make sure that if your usage has changed significantly, you are still getting the best deal.
It's also particularly important to start shopping about if you are on a capped tariff deal which is about to end in the next couple of months. Many people on such deals will automatically be put on to the current price from their supplier, which may be much higher, when their tariff period ends.
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