If your telephone rings when you're in the process of switching business energy supplier, be sure you know who you're really talking to.
Commercial energy customers beware – energy suppliers have some very dirty tricks up their sleeve. This is a warning all businesses must heed when contracts come up for renewal.
Changes to regulations by OfGem at the start of this year made some headway in protecting business gas and electricity customers from automatic contract rollovers, which had been widely criticised by many quarters for several years.
A study conducted by OfGem revealed that many small and medium sized businesses in the UK were struggling to understand contracts and the business energy market.
The changes brought in by the industry regulator in January 2010 helped to eliminate some of the ambiguity in terms of contract renewals and erase the practice of hiding contract termination notices in small print. However, as we’ve been discovering, there are still many dirty tricks being deployed in an attempt to prevent or delay business energy customers who want to switch supplier.
“Dirty tricks are prevalent in the business energy market,” said Energy Advice Line’s Managing Director Julian Morgan. “At Energy Advice Line we’re regularly coming across new tactics employed by energy suppliers to try to win back customers and hold up contract switches.”
Naming no names to spare the energy companies’ blushes, on this blog we can highlight some of the potential problems customers might come up against when attempting to switch commercial electricity and gas contracts.
The old “cheque lost in the post” trick has been a favourite of many a dirty trickster for time eternal. In terms of commercial gas and electricity suppliers, the “lost contract termination card” is a variation of this. Suppliers claiming that they never received advanced termination notices can hold up contract switches and cause real problems for you when changing your energy supplier.
Julian Morgan continues: “This is why we at the Energy Advice Line strongly advise that our customers serve termination by recorded post, fax or email so at least you have the peace of mind that the supplier cannot try to prevent what should be a seamless transfer.”
Changing metering details on customers’ bills is another increasingly common tactic.
For example, the electricity supply number is found on the electricity bill issued by your supplier. This number is unique to your premises and if it is changed slightly it makes it very difficult for energy price comparison service such as Energy Advice Line and other suppliers alike to locate metering details and therefore provide customers with alternative prices.
“If the electricity supply number is changed slightly it makes it very difficult for price comparison services and other supplers alike to locate metering details and provide customers with alternative prices”
Claiming there is outstanding debt on a customer account is another trick being deployed by commercial energy suppliers. As the economy continues its slow recovery from recession, many small businesses are struggling to keep on top of their overheads and there are many genuine cases of debt.
However, here the trick is to send bills out very near the 15-21 day window for paying them. This practically guarantees that the bills will be paid late and therefore gives the supplier a reason to prevent the transfer on the first attempt.
This will not prevent the client transferring to their new supplier as the Energy Advice Line intercepts such tactics and works with the client to resolve the situation but it is unfortunately a tactic employed by certain suppliers to delay what should be a quick and efficient transfer. Customers should check the dates on their bills very carefully, lest an auto-objection is raised when they try to switch.
Perhaps the dirtiest trick of all, however, comes from a company which shall remain nameless.
A well-known business energy supplier (we’ll call them “company one”) is phoning their former customers that are switching to a second business energy supplier (company two), saying the second company has not processed or has lost their contract.
“Business energy company one are showing company two as incompetent – and winning back business by nefarious means!”
Company one then supplies the customer service number of company two, who will on receipt of the phone call tell the customer no contract exists! This is because company two’s system will not show a contract at the stage when the switch from company one to company two is taking place. Thus company one are showing company two as incompetent – and winning back business by nefarious means!
Dirty tricks will remain prevalent in the business electricity and business gas markets until the regulator OfGem enforces stronger regulation on the supply companies.
You as a customer who is trying to exercise freedom of choice and switch to a more competitive supplier can overcome these tactics but it is always a good idea to contact an independent energy price comparison service such as Energy Advice Line, who will help you overcome any issues should they arise.
They can offer free and impartial advice on the best business energy supplier for your organisation, and have an online business energy comparison service.
Picture credit - B&W Classic Telephone by Lioliz from Flickr