back to article Ofgem sets up database so energy companies can spam Brits

The UK's energy regulator is creating a database service that farms out information on Britons' energy tariffs to rival companies for the sake of ensuring a “competitive market”. Earlier this year the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) published a mammoth 1,423-page report (PDF) followings its two-year investigation into …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    And this is a good idea because...?

    Why does everyone need their hand holding all the time? Shirley there's enough advertising about the possibilities of switching provider. If people can't be arsed to check on the options then leave them alone.

    What next - Tesco have to list the prices of each item in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys etc on the shelf edge? Petrol stations have to list all the prices at other petrol stations within 10 miles? Give me strength!

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: And this is a good idea because...?

      I agree - anyone who doesn't know you can switch energy supplier for a better deal has been living under a rock for the last 20 years or simply doesn't want to - but it goes further than that. I think it would be more like the local Tesco gets the contact details of everyone that has bought their groceries at the nearby Sainsburys for most of the last year and would be able to send them a flyer full of offers plus a ready completed Clubcard application form ("Just sign here and return in the pre-paid envelope").

      Your comparison correctly pokes fun at the absurdity of this idea but doesn't have sufficient invasive creepiness.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And this is a good idea because...?

        "[...] anyone who doesn't know you can switch energy supplier for a better deal [...]"

        "anyone who doesn't know you can switch energy supplier for an allegedly better deal"

        FTFY

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "two thirds of households are disengaged"

    Or

    "two thirds of households have better things to do than waste hours every day desperately comparing suppliers & monitoring usage in the faint hope that they can save thousands of pounds rather than the few pence most people would save and would be scant reward for their time"

    "two thirds of households are insufficiently panicked & are not playing the game where we can pump endless adverts into their homes while they frantically scrabble to save a few pence so we'd better find a new way of terrifying them or just send them the adverts some other way"

    "two thirds of households prefer to have a life & use their internet connection to stream movies rather than to endlessly visit energy supplier sites desperately searching for a few pennies to save"

    "two thirds of households just want to be switched to the cheapest tariff automatically but that means we can't pump our advertising at them and it would be too useful to the consumer & of no benefit to the industry so it'll never happen"

    1. Joefish

      Or possibly even

      "two thirds of households recognise a 'new customers only' bait-and-switch scam when they see one"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When it comes to ISP I don't even want the cheapest. Cheapest is shittiest, most over-sold, and most deceptively priced or bundled. And I have a long term trust relationship with my existing provider that they basically have no downtime ever.

      Virgin media salesman called the other day and opened with "Cheapest package ..." Yeah, let me stop you there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "And I have a long term trust relationship with my existing provider that they basically have no downtime ever."

        As far as I can tell - your supplier could go offline for days and it wouldn't affect you. All they do is pump electricity into the grid - and it is used by any consumer.

        The grid itself is presumably another supplier who maintains the distribution network and the cables to your meter - without you having a direct contract. A meter failure could be the responsibility of your supplier - not sure who replaces the big supply fuse should it ever blow.

        My neighbour's house had a rare total failure one evening. The repair crew jury-rigged a cable from the supply side of my indoor meter and trailed it through my letterbox. Next day they dug up the pavement to splice the break.

        At that point it was obvious that the original builders had not used a nice right-angle connection between her house and the main supply. Instead it was a diagonal underneath my concrete drive. Luckily they could just about splice it without digging up my drive.

  3. Dabooka Silver badge
    WTF?

    This cannot end badly

    A big database controlled by a QANGO and accessed by commercial entities? The opportunities are amazing! What can go wrong? What's up with you all?

    I hope to high heaven this is opt in. Hell I'll even take opt out as long as it's bloody option.

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: This cannot end badly

      They're one step ahead of you:

      "...Ofgem stated, and as such customers "will have the right to opt out beforehand to avoid receiving communications by post, and will only be contacted electronically if they explicitly opt in to such communications.""

      I suspect they'd argue the post side has to be opt-out because people who already don't engage with the energy market have implicitly indicated they wouldn't opt in and we can't have such a great idea hobbled by being opt in because profits. Great news for the Royal Mail I suppose.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: This cannot end badly

        "Great news for the Royal Mail I suppose."

        It depends on who pays for return to sender.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "two thirds of households are disengaged"

    A few months ago EON sent me a letter to make an appointment to change to a SMART electric meter. When I ignored it they followed up with a phone call. In neither case did they mention that the change was voluntary - although the caller acknowledged that when challenged.

    This week they sent me the same letter again. I will have a think about what I will say to the next follow-up caller.

    With that in mind I will opt out of this OFGEM database asap. If I get emails from other suppliers on the email address only used for EON meter readings - then I will know who to report to the ICO.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      same here

      Why would I want a so called smart meter? My PV array on the roof spins my old type meter backwards. This gives me a 1:1 generation:consumption ratio. Far better than the meagre feed in tarrif I'd have to settle for if I went for a smart meter.

      As for 'electronic communications' they'll just go in the SPAM folder and get blocked. What use is it then eh OFGEM?

      Can't you get it into your stupid thick heads that we don't want any more advertising. We are fed up with the amount we get as it is.

      Ofgem, go sit on the naughty step for the next 5 years.

  5. wyatt

    Stupid fecking idiots. There is enough problems in the commercial market with brokers, this will not improve things for the consumer. Is that not what everyone should be working towards?

    Have a search for BES Utilities and what they're currently being investigated about. Consider this in the domestic market.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      It could be worse. An acquaintance of mine has been taken in by an energy selling pyramid scheme.

      The scam is if you sell for them, you get a percentage of the profits of anybody you sign up, and they sign up, etc.

      Christ almighty, give me cold callers any day of the week.

      So, what is it this company does?

      "They make you money"

      Not interested.

      "But why wouldn't you want to make more money!"

      Another one: "If I make X amount of money, they'll lend me a Porche for a week in 2019."

  6. Buzzword

    Empty list

    "a database of customers that have been on a standard variable tariff for three years or more"

    So now every supplier will send their customers a letter after two years and eleven months, saying "Thanks to your unfailing loyalty, we're putting you on a cheaper* tariff!"

    (*for a couple of months only, before reverting to the higher tariff again; preferably in the summer while your usage is lowest)

    1. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Empty list

      "... before reverting to the higher tariff again ..."

      Don't you mean: "before putting you on a higher tariff than you were on originally, while giving you the option of several tariffs to choose from, the details of which you can only obtain from their award winningly obscure website by blowing your brains out trying"

      With NO apologies to E-off.

      See icon you useless gits. >>

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comparison site savings not what they seem.

    My fixed tariff finishes this month, when I tried to compare tariffs, it showed wonderful savings of £150, but on closer inspection neither the daily standing charge or the Kwh rate was lower than my current rate.

    It turns out they don't compare with your current tariff but with the tariff you'll be on if you fail to switch at all. Comparing you to a standard variable tariff, non fixed tariff. All very sneaky / deceptive.

    If I'm comparing the tariff that I've selected to compare the market to, I want to compare it to what I'm currently paying, not some future hypothesis of my rate.

    Also standing charges has risen astronomically 50-70% (obviously to pay for the pointless Smart Meter rollout) , it would be better Ofgem concentrated on this.

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Comparison site savings not what they seem.

      The alternative to wrestling with comparison sites and their arcane systems is getting the actual per unit and per day charges from the suppliers without having to submit all your personal details for one of their quotes (invariably generated on the same questionable lines as the comparison site). It is possible but not easy and usually requires Google to dig it out of their website as the page is usually not linked to (Beware of the Leopard etc).

      1. Adam Jarvis

        Re: Comparison site savings not what they seem.

        Agree, all I want is a table showing Unit Kwh Rate and Standing charge for Electricity for all the suppliers per region, based on payment method selected.

        Even Citizen's Advice Energy Comparison Website bamboozles.

        On some companies, even when you click on the tariff information link, it doesn't show it straight away. All designed so you never know the true price you're paying, which Ofgem appear complicit.

      2. Gerry 3
        Alert

        Places for People Energy and Iresa give fake "quotations"

        Unfortunately you can be seriously overcharged if you go directly to some energy company websites. If you have Economy 7, Places for People Energy and Iresa both fail to ask for separate Day and Night meter readings; you can only submit the total usage. This means that their so-called "accurate quotations" cannot be accurate.

        Places for People Energy claims that it assumes 55% night usage, which is bad enough, but in my case it turned out to be an impossibly high 69%. Iresa are almost as bad, arbitrarily assuming 40% night usage.

        Both companies gave false "quotations" that were far lower than the bills my meter readings would generate, and neither was the cheapest supplier. If I had switched, they would have obtained my business by FRAUD.

        Amazingly, the Advertising Standards Authority is completely happy with this deliberate misrepresentation and refuses to act ! Well, perhaps not so amazing really - ALL the so-called watchdogs and regulators are all absolutely useless, so it's par for the course I suppose.

    2. chris 17

      Re: Comparison site savings not what they seem.

      use the MSE cheap energy club comparison, it can show you comparisons based on your current tariff, or the OFGEM method of future standard rate tariff.

      http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cheapenergyclub

    3. TheEnergyShop.com
      WTF?

      Re: Comparison site savings not what they seem.

      Good that you spotted this. Most people (and we are talking hundreds of thousands a year) are not aware that they are being quoted savings that are £100 to £200 higher than they actually get.

      We even found one example where a customer was quoted a saving of £540 on a bill that was only £438. Unbelievable!

      It is a national scandal.

      No good asking Ofgem to do anything about it. They are the ones who came up with the crazy idea in the first place.

      We have been campaigning with http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/finally-a-fair-deal-for-energy-switchers-v53zbxfl2 to get it abolished and luckily it is about be killed off.

      BTW we had to use Personal Projections - Ofgem made us do it. But we have never used them to big up the savings. It is dishonest. Here's why...

      https://www.theenergyshop.com/HomeEnergy/advice-guides-personal-projections-and-why-they-are-so-dangerous

      The question now is how do all those switchers who have been misled get their money back? Who is going to pay up - Ofgem or the comparison websites?

      Joe

      TheEnergyShop.com

  8. Christopher Reeve's Horse
    Unhappy

    Markets!

    The economy of changing supply is fundamentally flawed if there's no simple way to compare prices and service.

    Those apples looks nice, and they're 37p each. These other apples don't look quite as nice but they're only 25p each...

    Unfortunately the structure of tariff pricing, bonuses and offers is massively and purposely obfuscating, and it's also impossible to judge the quality of service. This is why people don't switch tariff often.

    If it was really clear which company would give YOU the best customer service and which company offered the cheapest prices we'd all just move supplier all the time. There would be genuine price competition, and the suppliers would all make less profit... QED.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Markets!

      Let's face it there is no Quality of Service from the bottom up Scottish Power and equally God awful Cooperative Energy (of which Ofgem seem insistent at not sanctioning for their complete lack of systems/service - as Ofgem put it, 'they don't regulate new system rollouts' so what the fcuk do they regulate?)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More interference

    I really wish the Government and its quangos would stop interfering in my life. I've never had PPI - let alone been mis-sold it, never worked in a loud environment, and I when I occasionally check on better deals for gas and electricity the savings are tiny as I'm a very low user. I realise that some people are thick / stupid / vulnerable, but the vast majority of people aren't and are sick to the back teeth of constant interference. It's not like there aren't more pressing problems that the government / civil service should be sorting out.

    1. Lyndon Hills 1

      Re: More interference

      the savings are tiny as I'm a very low user

      The savings appear to be so small that if anything at all goes wrong, the potential savings will be more than wiped out by the time spent sorting it out.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Interesting excercise if you use multiple comparison sites.

    For gas (for example) British Gas has never come out cheaper AFAIK.

    They may not agree on the "winner" but all agree on the loser.

    The theory of the report demonstrates a fair grasp of ways to make the market "fairer."

    Sadly it fails to realize the UK energy market is an oligopoly run by a group of companies whose default corporate behavior is psychopathic.

  11. Fonant

    One way to minimise energy bills and make sure everyone is treated faily would be to have a nationalised energy system.

    However the current government thinks that "competition" is the answer to everything, even though privatising energy supply simply results in confusion, profits for a few, and a massive investment of time and energy into advertising rival services.

    FWIW we pay more for our electricity and gas than we probably need to, in support of Good Energy and their sustainable policies, and in support of renewable energy sources. We do not want British Gas and EDF and eON and everyone else annoying us on a regular basis trying to temp us with "cheaper" deals.

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Alert

      Same here. We're with one of the newer, smaller, suppliers - they send me an accurate bill every month, send a blokey to read the meters 1-2 times a year yet still cost less than the big suppliers I've checked. I haven't contacted them for at least two years - they just get things right so no need to other than a quick email at fixed rate renewal time. Considering the massive clusterfuck of poor customer service, crappy billing systems and general all round asshattery at the big six I've got no interest in switching to any of them - I don't care how much "cheaper" they think they are. As another commentard says above - cheaper isn't always the best choice.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I agree cheaper isn't always the best choice and I can give two examples without directly naming said companies which were the cheapest at the time I started using them.

        Company 1 - Estimated bills above usage then credited back, after calculating it all I worked out they owed me £43.16. Promised refund, never came through, took them to the ombudsmen and refund issued however I clearly stated to the ombudsmen that they need investigating in case they were doing this to other customers, they ignored and refused to look into it. They got a big FU from me especially as I also pointed out that even though it supposed to be a "fixed" tariff they got round that by changing the gas conversion rate.

        Company 2 - I know my usage for the year and the monthly payment should be £38.53 however the current offer (which will save me a massive £10 per year) comes with a new direct debit total of £65 per month. As they are still the cheapest in GB I have requested they look into it and correct otherwise I will switch again.

        I can only imagine what sort of shenanigans and tricks they will get up to given a list of all customers and usage.

        Why can't we just have a simple system where these companies are not actively using every conceivable method to try and screw over the consumer or at least have a regulator that actually stops them from doing it?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "One way to minimise energy bills and make sure everyone is treated faily would be to have a nationalised energy system."

      Yup. "Faily" would be about right.

  12. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    Younger consumers may not remember...

    ...that there was a time when we didn't have to do this.

  13. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Flame

    Petition?

    Has anyone started a petition against being put in a government-sanctioned spam list and having (at best) to jump through hoops to opt out?

    Where do I sign? Or if it doesn't exist, where do I go to create it?

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Petition?

      You don't need to.

      It's a breach of the DPA without explicit consent.

      And the DPA is a copy of and protected by EU... oh... hang on a moment...

  14. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Could elReg please go back to ofGem, get the name and email address of a specific contact to whom we can address our concerns and publish it as an updaye. If they haven't appointed one yet their CEO would be a fine substitute until such time as they do. If they refuse, publish their exact grounds for refusal.

  15. chris 17
    FAIL

    market paremeters are wrong

    Why are we automatically switched to the providers expensive standard tariff at the end of a term?

    why can't we automatically be rolled over to the providers cheapest tariff with no penalty for changing to an alternate supplier?

    I'm with daligas who's standard and fixed tariffs are exactly the same & are constantly the cheapest in my area.

    Also the way ofgem mandate the comparison sites calculate the annual bill is incorrect. They mandate the calculation to the end of the current term and then the rest on the standard rates to a year from now (wrongly assuming you won't have switched). its possible for your current tariff to be cheaper than any available but the comparison sites will state large savings based on the cost of moving on to the standard rate vs switching now. You will likely save by waiting out your current term and then switching at the terms end. The MSE comparison tool lets you toggle between the OFGEM method or the sensible method.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: market paremeters are wrong

      "Why are we automatically switched to the providers expensive standard tariff at the end of a term?"

      Probably the same reason that NS&I, Banks, and Building Societies appear to roll you over to their lowest interest accounts when they decide to close the scheme you originally invested in.

      For years I had a Nationwide "Capital Builder" account. The incentive was that it was for long term saving with withdrawal restrictions for an above normal interest rate. Then it changed to delivering rock bottom interest (0.2%) - while churn customers were offered new account schemes with substantially higher rates.

      All these new schemes being constantly introduced and closed smacks of the derivatives scandals that led to the 2008 crash.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: market paremeters are wrong

      "Why are we automatically switched to the providers expensive standard tariff at the end of a term?"

      Because marketing departments bonuses depend on the success of their bait and switch schemes.

    3. Adam Jarvis

      Re: market parameters are wrong

      You're assuming Ofgem work on behalf of consumers, I can tell you 'point blank' in dealing with Ofgem directly, they have absolutely zero interest in day to day regular issues such as Billing, Customer Service and are actually a hostile organisation to direct consumer interaction, which 'bat you away' at any opportunity, if you start to make in-roads (are critical) into their methods of how they regulate.

      As said above they don't regulate the roll-out of new billing systems to make sure they are fit for purpose. What is an Energy Company/Supplier other than a Customer relationship management system with Billing add-on?

      If you don't regulate rollout of CRM systems, to check they are fit for purpose - you don't really regulate Energy Suppliers.

      Its all about hidden deals behind closed doors, with little to no, public scrutiny of the deal arrangements they reach with certain suppliers.

      Its basically a lot of shady white men doing a lot of shady deals, in the hope Ofgem isn't tatented too much by all the bad publicity in general out there.

      Ofgem is basically a very Narcissistic Organisation, not fit for purpose. Ofgem are rotten to the core, and this is a desperate organisation on its last legs, trying desperately to be seen to be doing 'something'. I so look forward to the day Ofgem is ripped up and replaced.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I propose a new entity

    Called OffBugger, to collate the names and addresses of all the people cold-calling me about my gas and electricity bills

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's an idea...

    One not-for-profit supplier, supplying electricity to everyone at the same price.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Here's an idea...

      Assume you mean the Richard Branson style of 'Not for Profit', in which you still pay the Management astronomic amounts for Piss Poor Service, a nice gravy train and all that. Its basically the same as 'For Profit', but with the profit element going to the Management Team, expensed on as much as they can (get away with).

      There's probably a few exceptions, but that's mostly how these 'not for profit' get run, you can still bleed them dry, and fail to re-invest.

      The biggest problem was allowing far too much consolidation of the smaller players, to form the big 6, but no different to any other sector - Banks, Telecoms, in the UK.

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