The energy industry has today been challenged to follow the lead set by the telecoms and banking sectors and speed-up the switching process.
Independent provider First Utility called on the Big Six firms to give consumers a better deal by slashing the time it takes to switch suppliers from the current average five weeks to just one day. Its ‘Fix the Switch’ campaign launched this morning has already gained support from energy Watchdog Ofgem. Andrew Wright, Ofgem chief, said other suppliers should share the same ambition as First Utility.
“We are determined to speed up the switching process and we are working closely with suppliers to ensure that it happens,” he said. “Improvements have already been made to cut the time it takes to switch supplier to three weeks but ultimately the roll out of smart meters to homes and businesses will pave the way for a quicker switching process to be developed.”
Research suggests that the speed and complexity of switching is the main factor putting consumers off. But if just a third of the population switched to cheaper tariffs, it could save consumers around £1.5bn per year.
First Utility’s chief executive Ian McCaig believes the existing switching process limits competition. “The Energy industry needs to follow the example set by the telecoms and banking sectors. It takes just four hours to switch mobile phone providers and you can change banks in a week,” he said.
“It is less complicated to change energy provider, yet we are stuck with antiquated processes that suit no-one other than the incumbents. We need to slash the time it takes to change energy suppliers, not just by shaving a few days off the process, but by introducing same-day switching.”
Switching is relatively simple as no-one needs to visit a consumer’s house, the gas or electricity doesn’t change, and there is no risk to supply.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, also welcomed the challenge but warned that stringent consumer protection needs to be kept. “It’s fantastic to see suppliers driving campaigns to make the switching process as smooth as possible and put the power back into consumers’ hands,” she said. “With the current account switching process now taking just one week, and Ofcom working on making it quicker and easier to switch broadband, the energy industry is in danger of being left behind.” However she warned of the importance of ensuring that no corners are cut that could harm consumers. “It’s important that people are still given a ‘cooling off’ period to give them time to change their mind,” she said. “If Ofgem can ensure that consumers enjoy this current level of protection as well as a quicker switch then we could see an extremely positive development in the energy industry.”
First Utility has set up an petition for supporters to the campaign at fightthepower.uk.com. “If we get 100,000 people to sign, this will get debated in parliament and the industry will have to take note,” said Mr McCaig.