Energy: getting a better deal just got easier

The highlight of my week was undoubtedly the news that we have made significant progress in our campaign to make energy contract end dates more visible to business customers. Suppliers are starting to recognise the need to act - and that can only mean good news for businesses. If you read my Smarta guest blog a few weeks ago, you might recall why I think this is so important. If not, let me give you a snapshot.

Traditionally, energy suppliers have not exactly been proactive in making customers aware that their contracts are coming to an end - and they tend to be even quieter about the fact that there is only a short window of opportunity to re-negotiate your current contract or shop around for a new one. Often, doing nothing will have unwanted consequences for the business owner - existing contracts 'roll over' onto much higher rates.

We believe that energy bills for organisations that roll over are generally 30% higher than for those that successfully switch. With fewer than one in five switching, that means that the UK's businesses and charities are overspending to the tune of around £2bn a year.

If this is going to change, customers need to feel compelled to take action. We believe they are far more likely to do that if a) contract end dates and notice periods are prominent on bills, b) renewal letters are sent by Recorded Delivery, and c) those letters show the difference between current and renewed rates in both pounds and percentage terms. Those three requirements form the basis of our campaign, which has been backed by over a thousand UK businesses and charities through letters to Ofgem and signatures on an HM Government ePetition.

So, it's thanks to good old fashioned people power - rather than regulation - that the tide is now starting to turn. Gas suppliers CNG have been particularly receptive, and are introducing contract end dates on bills and Recorded Delivery renewal letters as soon as August. I couldn't agree more with their MD Jacqui Hall, who sees the bigger picture and believes the changes "will increase accountability and credibility in [the] industry". E.ON has agreed to put contract end dates on all their bills by the end of the year and will be sending out reminder letters after renewal notices. Scottish Power is already using Recorded Delivery to send renewal letters to some of its business customers.

It would be premature to declare an outright victory until the 'Big Six' energy companies are all fully on board - but a milestone has clearly been reached. We will continue to campaign until the wool is well and truly pulled from over the eyes of business customers - then we'll hopefully see that £2bn annual overspend begin to plummet.

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