Energy adverts exposed
- Which? exposes adverts from the big energy firms
- Our video guide reveals the gas and electricity adverts we think are misleading
- The advert which claims to give you two months of free energy but only saves you £3.80
Energy adverts - what to watch out for
Adverts from the big energy firms are a familiar sight, with tempting offers of free energy or cash. But our investigation has revealed that many of the ads aren’t what they may at first seem and some could actually leave you worse off.
We found one ad for Southern Electric that claimed to make you £100 richer, but in fact could have cost you £133. Another, for Eon, offered you two months worth of free energy, but saved you just £4. Don't miss future Which? investigations - sign up for a £1 trial to Which?.
Video guide to energy adverts
Just one in four people say they trust energy companies, so it’s no wonder they try to tempt us with special deals. In our video below, we look at seven ads that make tempting claims, either by promising money off or free energy, or by claiming to be the cheapest. We think that some of them could be misleading. Most of the claims made in these seven ads are correct, strictly speaking, however they might make the deals and offers sound more tempting than they actually are.
In October 2012, we surveyed 1,075 members of the public about seven ads featured in an exclusive Which? investigation.
We asked questions about their understanding of the claim made in the ad, how good an offer they thought the advertised deal was and whether they would be tempted to switch to it after seeing the ad.
With some of the ads, we asked respondents whether they would feel misled by the ad if it didn’t turn out to be the great deal that they expected.
Most of the claims made in these ads are correct, strictly speaking, however they might make the deals and offers sound more tempting than they actually are. Read on to find out more about two of the ads our investigation uncovered.
Southern Electric - £100 richer
The ad says - Switch to Southern Electric’s capped energy tariff and you’ll be up to £100 richer.
Consumers think - 80% agreed this ad implies that if they switched to this tariff they’d be £100 better off. 53% felt this looks like a good deal.
We say - This ad appeared in October 2012, just after SSE - the energy company that operates through brands including Atlantic Energy, Southern Electric, Scottish Hydro and Swalec - announced a price rise. This is a capped tariff, which means prices can’t go up for two years but can go down. Assuming prices don’t change, an average user would pay £233 more a year by taking up this offer than the cheapest deal on the market. Even with £100 off, they’d be £133 poorer.
Also, the capped contract is for two years and you only get the £100 in the first year. 77% of consumers we asked said they would feel misled to find the tariff was £100 more than the cheapest deal.
Eon - free months of energy
The ad says - Switch to Energy Fit Plan and you’ll get two months’ worth of free energy.
Consumers think - 78% agreed that this ad implies that by switching to Eon’s Energy Fit Plan, they’d get two months’ worth of free energy. 45% said this looks like an attractive deal.
We say - This ad from Eon appeared in October and November 2011. Customers switching to Eon Energy Fit Plan at the time would indeed get 8.33% (one twelfth) off their annual charges each year, and as it’s a two-year deal, they’d get the 8.33% off in year two as well.
But the small print says that ‘payment and online discounts [are] not available’, meaning that those on this deal would not receive the normal discounts of 8% for taking dual fuel and paying by direct debit. So the actual added discount is only 0.33% – a whole £3.80 saving on the average annual bill.
What’s more, Eon’s Energy Fit Plan was not a cheap deal. It costs £1,150 a year, £120 more than the cheapest deal on the market at the time. 72% would feel misled if they found the savings they’d get from this offer aren’t different to the usual discount offered on this tariff.
Note: All energy prices quoted are based on dual fuel for an average user (16,500 kWh of gas and 3,300 kWh of electricity a year) paying by monthly direct debit and averaged across all regions.