Savings for determined switchers

Switching phone and power suppliers online not only saves time and cash - it's a riposte to pesky door-to-door sellers, says Christopher Browne
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The Independent Online

OK, so the days when we had to forage in the snow for tinder are over, but winter is still a chilling prospect. Icy roads, treacherous pavements and ris- ing fuel bills can crush the most buoyant of spirits. There is a way, though, to fend off these daily hazards and save hundreds of pounds.

OK, so the days when we had to forage in the snow for tinder are over, but winter is still a chilling prospect. Icy roads, treacherous pavements and ris- ing fuel bills can crush the most buoyant of spirits. There is a way, though, to fend off these daily hazards and save hundreds of pounds.

It's known in the trade as The Big Switch. The next time a brown power bill flutters through your letter-box, ask yourself: Do I need to pay this much? and: Where can I get a better price? Happily, you won't have to go far to find the answers. Simply log on to the Net.

For the great thing about The Big Switch is its accessibility. Last year the country was invaded by highly trained sales teams geared to carry out Damascene conversions on behalf of a variety of energy companies. I remember opening the door to one young salesman who barged his way in, asked to read the meter and then wanted to know how much I spent on gas and electricity. When I asked him for his credentials, he waved the badge of a well-known energy supplier in my face. As he was not an official meter-reader, I firmly ushered him back out.

It was a narrow escape. But if I had been a more vulnerable target, I could have signed up to something I didn't want at a higher price than I was paying. A month later, London Electricity and Virgin Energy were fined £2m by the energy regulator Ofgem for similarly aggressive tactics.

Such behaviour stems from the highly competive energy market. For the past four years, UK consumers have been able to choose from 20 electricity and gas suppliers. Many are in the Yellow Pages, most have local branches and all are on the internet. It's an unbeatable way to save money and keep warm. Simply log on to unravelit.com, uswitch.com, saveonyourbills.co.uk or ukpower.com, enter your postcode, and details of annual usage, and the Web does the rest.

Jon Miller of uswitch.com says: "The average London family who uses British Gas or London Electricity can save £150 a year by getting a dual deal with a cheaper supplier. Almost everyone who has stayed with their first supplier can save money by switching now – don't wait till the next price hike."

One happy customer is Emma Wilson, who owns a two-bedroom flat in Islington, north London. She recently switched to TXU Energi ( www.txuenergi.co.uk) for an annual saving of £80. "Last year I was persuaded to sign with a supplier by a pushy door-to-door salesman. He was filling in the contract while I was trying to decide whether to change. Because I wanted to get rid of him I signed up, only to discover that I hadn't saved any money. I was actually paying more for my bills."

A few months later Wilson, an account director, heard about TXU. She logged on to its website and, finding it charged less than its local rivals, signed up. "It has certainly helped me to get my money back without the ordeal of having to deal with the cunning ploys of bully-boy salesmen."

The average family spends £580 a year on energy bills. Sandy and Clare Burnett, who live in west London with their two children, switched from British Gas to a dual-fuel deal with Amerada ( www.amerada.co.uk). "I've found going online neater, quicker and cheaper than other payment methods and it is easier to monitor your account. Though I used not to be a switcher, I certainly am now and will continue to switch in the future," says Sandy.

Switching has other benefits, too. One of them is reducing family arguments. How often do you hear, "You've been chattering away on the phone all evening! We'll have to dock your pocket money when the next phone bill comes in"? Well, help is at hand. You can switch your telephone supplier, too. This could prove a real bonus if you have friends and family abroad. A 10-minute call to Australia costs £4.19 with a BT basic tariff account. If, however, you move to One.Tel ( www.onetel.co.uk) the same call would cost 40p – a saving of £197 a year if you enjoy regular weekly chats. A 10-minute call to Ireland, meanwhile, costs just under £2 at BT's basic tariff rate. The same call with Telecom Plus ( www.telecomplus.co.uk) would set you back only £1.

Switching telephone suppliers can save you up to 90 per cent on international calls, while "the average switcher can expect to save about 35 per cent on all calls, whether local or oversesas, each year," says a Telecom Plus spokesman. So, if your family spends the national average of £328-a-year on the landline, you can expect to save £97 – the price of a nourishing meal for two.

So, get switched on now and make a booking at your favourite restaurant to celebrate. You won't regret it – and it'll certainly help to remove some of the nasty little envelopes that regularly plop through your letterbox.

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