Energy firms still not offering cheapest dealsBritish Gas and Eon fail telesales test

13 February 2012

Man on phone

We've seen some great improvements, but British Gas and Eon are still getting it wrong.

Some energy companies have improved their service to new customers, a recent Which? investigation has found. 

But British Gas and Eon are still getting it wrong. 

After exposing serious failings in its first telesales investigation in November 2011, Which? put pressure on the companies to improve the advice they offer over the phone.

When Which? repeated the test, despite finding examples of good practice, some companies were still misleading consumers. 

Which? researchers called each of the big six energy suppliers 12 times in one week and asked for the cheapest deal. But only four of the six suppliers had improved. 

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director said: 'Since our investigation last year, several of the major suppliers have cleaned up their act and three gave accurate information every time. 

But with some companies still giving misleading advice and quoting a different price every time, it’s no surprise that trust in energy companies is so low.'

For the full results of our latest investigation see our guide - Energy sales: don't get caught out.

Cheapest energy tariffs

In the first Which? telesales investigation, no supplier offered the cheapest tariff in all 12 calls. But in the repeat investigation, Scottish Power, Npower and EDF Energy did with Southern Electric doing so in 11 calls. 

British Gas only offered the cheapest deal in four of 12 phone calls, and calculated the correct price just once. And while Eon gave more consistent prices, it failed to tell researchers about its cheapest energy deal in seven out of 12 calls. 

Excluding VAT

In addition, several salespeople appeared to quote prices excluding VAT – which is 5% on energy bills and equal to around £50 a year in the chosen scenario. This goes against government guidance and could mislead people into thinking a tariff is cheaper than it really is.

British Gas' 'Honest Conversation'

Which? made the phone calls during the same week in November that British Gas launched its ‘Honest Conversation’. So, while it was publicly promising transparency, clear communication and ‘a fairer deal’ for customers, it was simultaneously giving misleading advice over the phone.

In five calls to British Gas, researchers were wrongly told that the standard tariff was the cheapest to switch to. This would have cost around £50 more a year than the cheapest deal (which at the time was Online Energy). 

British Gas told Which? that its researchers should have been offered the cheapest tariff in every call and says it is urgently ‘reviewing the reasons for any inconsistent advice’. 

Ofgem action needed

Which? thinks consumers should be told about the cheapest deal and warned about relevant exit fees in every call. 

Which? has shared its findings with each supplier and met with British Gas. 

British Gas managing director, Ian Peters, said: ‘Which? has highlighted a number of important areas of consistency for us to review, which we are already doing as a priority.’

The Which? Affordable Energy Campaign will continue to put pressure on British Gas and Eon to improve. Which? has also sent Ofgem the findings of both investigations. 

Another way to switch

If you want to switch to a cheaper energy tariff without having to negotiate with energy suppliers over the phone - check out The Big Switch. This is a new and innovative way to join together and push energy suppliers for a better deal. 

Richard Lloyd added: 'Most of us can’t understand our own bills, let alone choose between the hundreds of different tariffs. 

'That's one reason why Which? has launched The Big Switch. We want to get people a better deal and take the hassle out of the switching process. 

'So far, over 80,000 people have signed up, but we're urging people to get their friends and relatives involved. The more people that join in, the stronger our bargaining power.'

To sign up simply visit www.whichbigswitch.com. Enter your details before the end of March and Which? will negotiate the best deal from energy suppliers. 

You will then be able to decide whether or not you want to switch to the deal on offer.

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