Picking cheapest energy deal is impossible for most Just 8% spot cheapest energy deal in Which? test

14 October 2012


Just 8% of people could work out which was the cheapest from six standard electricity tariffs when asked to pick the best deal, as part of the latest Which? investigation into energy prices.

To test how easy energy prices are to compare, we asked more than 1,000 members of the public to identify the cheapest unleaded fuel from six different petrol stations, and then to do the same thing with electricity tariffs.

Though 94% of people could pick the cheapest price when asked about petrol prices, only 8% could do work out the best electricity deal. In a final twist to our test, we simplified the energy prices - as in the picture, right - and found that 89% of people could now find the best energy deal.

You can take our energy tariffs test for yourself to see if you've got what it takes to spot the best deal.

Complex energy tariffs

Our research shows that energy tariffs are still so complicated that people can't compare them at a glance - so why can't energy prices be as simple and comparable as the prices you see at petrol stations?

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

'Many consumers are struggling with ever-increasing energy bills and people tell us it is one of their biggest financial worries. With so few people able to identify the cheapest deal it’s no surprise that the majority are paying over the odds for their gas and electricity.

Energy prices should be presented in a clear, consistent and simple way so people can spot the cheapest tariff more easily, but our test shows that recent changes made by suppliers have not been enough. If the regulator Ofgem fails to deliver on its plans to simplify the market then the Government must step in to help hard-pressed consumers.'

Comparing gas and electricity prices

Tariffs are made up of so many different elements that it makes it difficult to compare them against each other. Even if you only look at standard tariffs, there are a lot of variables. 

These include whether there is a standing charge (which may or may not be priced per day), whether there is tiered pricing (whereby the first chunk of energy costs more than subsequent amounts, giving you two different unit rates), whether there is a direct debit discount, when the discount is paid and whether this is applied before or after VAT. 

All this makes it very hard to find out which deal is cheapest for you, and is a long way from the simplicity of choosing where to buy your petrol or diesel from. 

Energy price rises

The news comes as two more of Britain's biggest gas and electricity companies announce price rises. 

Following SSE's lead in August, on Friday British Gas became the second major energy company to raise its prices for this winter. It will increase gas and electricity prices by around 6% from 16 November, adding almost £80 a year to an average bill.

Npower followed suit by also announcing on Friday that it will increase its own prices on average by 8.8% for gas and 9.1% for electricity, from 26 November.

Confused about how to get the cheapest energy deal for your home this winter? Compare gas and electricity now to find the cheapest deal for you using Which? Switch - or ring the Which? Switch team on 01992 822 867.

Call for simple tariffs

We think that as with petrol, you should be able to compare energy prices at a glance.

We want energy regulator Ofgem to standardise the structure of tariffs so that people understand exactly what they’re paying for their electricity and gas and are able to find the best deal for them. 

More on this...

  • Before the winter, get the best electricity and gas deal for you using Which? Switch
  • Help Which? campaign for simple and comparable energy tariffs.
  • Can you spot the cheapest deal? Take the tariff test