Don't forget small print, says Which? SwitchHalf of consumers don't properly read Ts and Cs

31 October 2009

Around half of energy customers don't bother to properly read contract terms and conditions when changing energy supplier - making them more likely to be caught out by penalty fees and other charges only mentioned in the small print.

Which?'s energy comparison and switching service, Which? Switch, asked 2,000 people whether they read the terms of their energy contracts - and around 50% admitted they hadn't read or had only glanced at them.

Consumers looking to switch this autumn need to read all terms and conditions to ensure they're getting the best deal and avoiding potentially costly extra payments like exit fees. Energy firm Scottish and Southern Energy, for example, currently charges a £75 fee for canceling a dual fuel tariff before 31 December.

Customers may also need to look out for penalty charges for late payments or meter fittings, and for being moved to a different, and potentially more expensive tariff when a fixed deal is up.

Reading the energy small print

 Which? Switch customer Poonam Lolay said: 'I recently switched energy suppliers and am set to make an annual saving of £120. However it was only when I read the terms and conditions of my new contract that I discovered I was entering into a 12 month fixed term agreement which includes a cancellation charge if I switch during this period. 

'Now I'm fully equipped with all the facts I know I need to wait 12 months before looking for a new deal to avoid a costly extra payment.'

Which? Switch can help take the hassle out of changing energy supplier. Compare prices and tariffs in a few minutes to find the best deal for you. Those switching with Which? Switch between January 1 and October 21 2009 saved an annual average of £263.

Which? Switch

It's not all bad news lurking in the smal lprint, though. Which? Switch found that energy suppliers were offering extras, such as charity donations, one month’s rebate and free boiler repairs.

Alison Morrison of Which? Switch, said: 'You can expect to receive the largest energy bill of the year after the winter period which is why now is an ideal time to look at switching.

'However, it’s essential to read the terms and conditions of your contract to make sure you’re not missing out on the best deals or weighing yourself down with extra costs or clauses.'

Which? believes that energy bills should be simpler and is calling on Ofgem to introduce minimum standards for tariffs, including a summary box with the key facts on all marketing materials. This would help consumers compare the key elements of a tariff at a glance.

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