Breaking up is hard to do
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
A few weeks ago I joined a collective bargaining group to obtain cheaper fuel rates.
Basically, the organisers took names (a lot of them), and offered us to the lowest bidder.
Yesterday I received an email from them to inform me of who had won the auction (The Co-operative Energy) and giving me details of how to switch if I wanted to, so this morning I got on to it.
I spent over an hour chatting on line with my current provider (Southern Electric), telling them of the situation and asking them if they could beat the offer.
It turns out they can't.
The Co-op offered a better price than giants like British Gas. Maybe that's got something to do with their different business model – they don't pay their bosses whopping bonuses, and they’re keener on green energy.
However, I ditched British Gas over a decade ago for their appalling customer service.
My current supplier, Southern Electric, is the biggest renewable energy producer. They have also been voted best in customer service and best overall supplier for several years running by Uswitch. They are the only energy supplier to achieve 5 stars from consumer focus.
Aside from the glitzy awards, I completely agree that their customer service is exceptional, from personal experience.
On the other hand, the Co-op is a small business owned by its customers (no shareholders), they have ethical standards and simple and transparent price structures. They also are committed to renewable energy.
Many years ago I switched to Southern Electric via Ebico. This was mainly due to the fact that Ebico was big on combating social disparity. What really did it for me was that they charged the same to customers with pre-payment meters as what they did to customers who paid monthly bills, while most other suppliers were charging more to those on pre-payment. I've never had a pre-payment meter myself, but at the time most of my customers did as they found it difficult to budget otherwise due to being on very low incomes. Basically, what the energy suppliers were doing was to charge more to those who could afford it the least. I found that maddening.
Back to the current situation: most suppliers (if not all) have a price tier. What that means is that if you use up to a certain amount of fuel you get charged X per unit. If you go over that limit, you get charged X -whatever per unit. In other words: the more you use, the less you pay per unit. I'm not sure how that fits in with the drive to reduce our energy consumption.
On the other hand, the Co-op charges the same however much you use, therefore removing the "reward" for using more. They also do not play on short term savings, preferring to remain competitive over the long term.
Both the Co-op and Southern Electric are UK owned (and I won't even start on the insanity of putting the energy infrastructure in the hands of foreign corporations).
What it comes down to, in the end, is a certain saving on price versus an unknown possible change in customer service.
I'll decide what to do in a few days, but I think my current circumstances point very strongly at the savings option.
And silly as that may seem, I will be sad to leave a supplier that so far hasn't put a foot wrong.