Electricity sales at the checkout

A 10-month campaign starts next month to open

up the power market, but consumers will

need to be wary,

As if the idea of banking where you buy your groceries isn't bizarre enough, you will soon be able to buy your electricity from the company that insures your car, Paul Slade discovered.

Next month sees the start of a 10-month campaign to introduce competition into the electricity supply industry. Customers in Canterbury, Margate and Dover will be among the first targets.

Insurance companies, banks and supermarkets have already decided they want a piece of the action, and hope to act as agents, selling power on behalf of the electricity suppliers.

In a report published this week by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, half of the big financial services companies and retailers questioned said they might start selling electricity, with 22 per cent saying they planned to join the new market soon. One big financial services player said it wants one million electricity customers within four years.

Murray MacFarlane, the PwC partner responsible for the report, says: "A typical insurance company may be good at making insurance, but if they haven't got good customer access, they're cut off at the knees. Therefore, they are looking for any mechanism that establishes them with a customer contact.

"In principle, I can imagine a Commercial Union or a NatWest Bank saying `Why don't you buy your electricity through us? If you're a current customer, we'll give you a special deal'."

If the sales techniques used by other agents in last year's gas competition campaign are any indicator, customers will need to be wary.

Ian Bickley, spokesman for the Office of Electricity Regulation (Offer), says: "With gas, it was reported that people were asked to sign a form which said that someone had visited them and spoken to them. What they didn't realise was that they were actually signing a contract to take a supply from that company."

In order to guard against such sharp practice, Offer has introduced licence conditions for electricity suppliers and their agents. The conditions specify no payment in advance, compensation in cases of malpractice, proper training for all sales staff, and a "cooling off" period of 14 days.

Kate Goodfellow, a senior researcher at the Consumers' Association, says: "We hope the introduction of the conditions into the licences will have some effect. But we do have concerns that similar practices might occur because - even after the introduction of similar marketing conditions - they still haven't entirely gone away with gas."

Professor Stephen Littlechild, director general of electricity supply, admits there have already been a few instances of new electricity suppliers marketing their wares in advance of September's launch, where "customers have been deliberately misled, or where improper sales practices have been used, particularly in the case of doorstep selling."

As with gas, the incentive produced for customers tempted to switch suppliers will be cheaper power, although the actual savings look like being quite small.

"Electricity prices have come down quite a bit already," said PwC's MacFarlane. "At the moment, people would quote 1 per cent to 3 per cent. My gut feeling is that economics will produce more reduction than that."

The rolling campaign to introduce competition will continue until June next year, by which time every domestic electricity user in the UK should have a choice of suppliers.

Before considering a new supplier, Offer says you should get certain answers from the electricity salesman:

1 Does your company charge different rates for different times of the day? This could be important for those on Economy 7.

2 What payment options do you have?

3 Will I have to pay my bills weekly, monthly, or quarterly?

4. Does your contract run for a fixed term? if so, how long will it last?

5. How can I end the contract early if I want to, and how much will it cost me to do so?

6. Does your company impose both a standing charge and a unit charge? Or are the two wrapped up in one?

7. How often will my meter be read?

8. What happens if I fall behind in paying my bills? What will your company do to help me catch up again?

9 To whom do I speak if I have a query or a complaint?

10. Does your company offer additional services such as energy efficiency schemes?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk