Belfast Telegraph

Supplier switch acceleration urged

Energy companies should follow the lead of the banking and telecoms industries by speeding up the switching process, an independent energy provider has said.

First Utility said i ts research found that more than a third ( 35%) of those surveyed would be more likely to change if the process was quicker while nine out of 10 (93%) consumers agreed it should be speeded up so they could get a better deal on their energy.

If a third of people did change to a cheaper provider it could save the UK £1.5 billion per year, the company claims.

According to its research, speed and complexity of changing is the main factor putting consumers off, but as switching supplier is relatively simple with no need for home visits, no change in gas or electricity and no risk to supply, it should not take so long to switch.

It is launching a Fix the Switch campaign, which aims to reduce dramatically the time it takes to switch energy suppliers from five weeks to just one day.

It is calling on the industry, Ofgem and the Government to make a commitment to simplifying the process to make it faster, more accurate and more efficient and is encouraging consumers and MPs to sign an online petition in support of one-day switching to force the industry to make the change.

Ian McCaig, chief executive of First Utility, said: "If we get 100,000 people to sign our petition, this will get debated in parliament and the industry will have to take note.

"A quick and easy energy switching process would deliver genuine cost-saving benefits by encouraging more people to benefit from better energy deals.

"It takes just four hours to switch mobile phone providers and you can change banks in a week. 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 making a real difference and introducing same day switching."

The campaign is being supported by consumer champion and founder of letssavesomemoney.com, Sarah Willingham.

She said: "The energy industry needs to make changes to deliver much needed benefits for consumers. I hear it time and time again from my readers that they want to see energy companies putting their needs first.

"Taking the stress and time-wasting elements out of the equation will make a huge different to household bills across the UK."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "Rising energy prices are consistently one of the top worries for consumers, yet we've found people are so bamboozled by the vast array of tariffs that consumers are paying a staggering £3.9 billion a year more for their energy simply by not being on the best deals.

"People should switch to save, we've long called for faster, smoother switching.

"The Government must also do more to make it easier for consumers to spot the cheapest deal. Now is the time for bigger, better reforms if we are to help consumers struggling with spiralling energy prices and squeezed household incomes."

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, said: "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.

"However, it's important that no corners are cut that could harm consumers and that switching energy suppliers is as simple and streamlined as possible.

"It's important that consumers are still given a 'cooling off' period to give them time to change their mind. 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."

Andrew Wright, chief executive of Ofgem, said: "Ofgem is determined to speed up the switching process and we are working closely with suppliers to ensure that this happens.

"We welcome the fact that First Utility share our goal and we want other suppliers to show the same ambition.

"Improvements have already been made to cut the time it takes to switch supplier to three weeks after any cooling off period, but ultimately the roll out of smart meters to homes and businesses will pave the way for a quicker switching process to be developed."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "We're taking action to help hard-pressed consumers save money on their energy bills.

"We're moving people off poor-value dead tariffs, cutting the bamboozling array of tariffs on offer, and making energy bills easier to understand. This means it will be simpler for consumers to compare and switch to the best deal for them.

"We're also training an army of volunteers to help vulnerable consumers switch and access available help with energy bills."

He added: "We welcome any moves by companies to make switching energy supplier quicker and easier, so it's encouraging to see First Utility's proposal. However it's vital that protections such as cooling off periods are maintained, so consumers retain the opportunity to reflect and change their minds."

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