Big Six reviews
By Sarah Ingrams
Article 6 of 6
SSE is one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers, and the largest generator from renewable sources. But is it the best gas and electricity firm for you?
SSE (previously known as Scottish and Southern Energy) is based in Scotland. SSE began in 1947 as the Southern Electricity Board before becoming known as Southern Electric.
It merged with Scottish Hydro 20 years ago, and since then, Swalec, Atlantic and Airtricity have all become part of SSE.
The company is the UK’s largest electricity generator from renewable sources. It operates hydropower, onshore and offshore wind and biomass electricity generation plants across the UK. In November 2018 it announced the launch of SSE Renewables, bringing operation and ownership together.
It also offers home phone and broadband contracts, and boiler cover. SSE Reward gives customers access to offers and presale tickets at SSE venues.
However it is set to sell its energy customers to Ovo in January 2020. This means that around 3.5million households will be supplied by Ovo Energy in the new year, after the regulator approved the buyout in December 2019.
Previously, SSE planned to merge with Npower to create a new independent energy and services company. However, the plans were scrapped in December 2018, even though the merger had been given the provisional go-ahead in August by the Competition and Markets Authority.
SSE was also the supply partner for M&S Energy for nine years, until the partnership ended in September 2018. Find out about the future of M&S Energy.
Can you save money with SSE? See how its prices compare with your current deal – use Which? Switch to compare gas and electricity prices.
SSE customer scoreSSE came joint 22nd out of 30 energy companies, rated by 7,429 members of the public, in the annual Which? customer survey.
SSE score breakdown
The graphic below shows the breakdown of SSE’s score from our latest survey.
Besides our customer satisfaction survey, we investigate how long it takes suppliers to pick up the phone in customer services and whether you can get a good energy deal. Scroll down to find out how SSE compares with its rivals.
Find out how SSE compares with other energy companies – see the full results of the best and worst energy companies.
Which? verdict on SSE
SSE still has plenty of room for improvement though, when compared with smaller suppliers. Its customers gave it four stars out of five for its customer service and for how it handles complaints. But its bills, value for money and how it helps customers understand and reduce energy use were ranked less well by customers.
SSE customer service
SSE customers are a bit more satisfied with its customer service than other Big Six firms. It was the only one among them to achieve four stars for both online and phone service. But the very best energy suppliers achieve five-star ratings for customer service.
Its solid ratings for customer service are despite SSE taking 6mins 22secs on average to answer our calls to its customer services.
In our snapshot investigation into energy companies’ customer waiting times, SSE's pick-up time was slower than the average of the companies we called (4mins 24secs). That said, eight firms of the 36 included took longer than 10 minutes to answer the phone on average.
On live chat, SSE was in line with the average across firms we contacted, taking 2mins 40secs to reply.
Although customers overall aren’t enthusiastic about SSE representing value for money, its standard tariff was the cheapest of the Big Six suppliers before the price cap came into force.
This doesn’t make that tariff good value for money; you can usually save a few hundred pounds by switching supplier (scroll down for more about SSE’s prices).
SSE promised to stop rolling customers onto its standard tariff automatically at the end of their fixed deals, although it didn’t set a date for this.
Pros: Standard tariff was cheaper than other Big Six firms
Cons: SSE was fairly slow to answer the phone to customers in our call-waiting investigation
SSE electricity sources
SSE energy prices
The graph above shows how SSE’s variable (also known as standard) tariff, its priciest tariff and its cheapest tariff compared with the cheapest tariff on the market over a two-year period.
If you were a SSE customer and on its variable tariff, you would have been paying a lot less if you’d switched to a cheaper energy deal.
SSE was the last of the Big Six energy companies to announce its first increase to its customers’ bills in 2018. It and Npower were the only two of the Big Six not to announce a second price rise and overall its SVT price increase was the second-smallest (at £76 per year).
Don’t pay your energy firm more than you should. Use Which? Switch to find the cheapest gas and electricity.
SSE in the news
December: Ovo’s purchase of SSE’s energy and services business got the go-ahead from the Competition and Markets Authority and will take place in January 2020.
Until it happens, SSE customers will see no changes to their prices or service. Ovo said ‘you’ll be kept in the leep every step of the way’ once the transaction has finished.
September: SSE announced that it is selling its household energy and related services business to Ovo. This includes gas and electricity customers, telecoms and other home services. It includes customers of SSE’s brands including Atlantic, Scottish Hydro, Southern Electric and Swalec.
April: SSE is to pay £700,000 after missing its gas smart meter installation target for 2018.
Suppliers agree targets of how many smart meters they will install each year with regulator Ofgem. SSE met its electricity smart meter fitting target, but missed its gas one by around two months.
The money will be used to support consumers in vulnerable situations.
February: SSE paid out £705,000 after reporting its feed-in tariff payments incorrectly to energy regulator Ofgem.
It overstated the generation payments it had made and so received £4.07m more than it was entitled to. SSE reported its error to Ofgem, which it said was due to ‘an administrative error’.
Find out more about the feed-in tariff scheme for solar panels.
In the same month, SSE was the last of the Big Six energy firms to confirm that it would raise prices when the level of the price cap on standard and default tariffs is increased on 1 April.
More than two million customers will see their bills increase by around £117 per year (based on a medium user) to the maximum amount permitted under the cap.
Pay-as-you-go customers will also see bills increase.
December: Npower and SSE's merger plan was scrapped. SSE said that the deal was 'not now in the best interests of customers, employees or shareholders'.
SSE said that business performance, clarity on the level of the default tariff price cap and changing conditions in the energy market would have meant the new company faced very challenging market conditions.
Other options for SSE Energy Services will be considered instead, including a standalone demerger, sale or an alternative transaction.
August: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that SSE and Npower’s merger ‘does not raise competition concerns’ and provisionally cleared the deal.
Alistair Phillips-Davies SSE chief executive said SSE is ‘confident that the formation and listing of the new company is on track for completion by the end of SSE’s financial year’ (March 2019).
July: SSE shareholders voted in favour of merging its retail business with Npower’s. Richard Gillingwater SSE chairman said the new supplier will ‘combine the resources and experience of two established players with the focus and agility of an independent supplier’.
Earlier in the month it was announced that SSE will cease to be the supply partner of M&S Energy in September. The two companies have been in business together for nine years.
On 11 July, around 2.36 million customers on SSE’s standard variable tariff were affected by the 6.7% increase in dual-fuel prices. SSE also scrapped its paperless billing discount – worth £12 per year for dual-fuel customers.
June: SSE paid £190,000 compensation to former Ebico customers after their switch was delayed.
When it withdrew its ‘white label’ partnership and tariff with Ebico, SSE took almost six months, rather than the expected 49 days, to switch customers onto a new deal. This meant that some customers missed out on savings.
Earlier in June, SSE paid £1m for sending 1.15 million prepayment-meter customers inaccurate and misleading annual statements between June 2014 and September 2015.
They showed incorrect information on cheaper tariffs and annual savings estimates if customers switched owing to an IT error. Some statements overestimated savings from moving from a prepayment meter to a standard meter.
May: SSE and Npower’s proposed merger was referred for further investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced due to its concerns that the merger would result in a ‘substantial lessening of competition’ which could see some customers’ bills increase.
January: SSE revealed it lost 40,000 customer accounts in the last three months. It said ‘complex challenges’ in the energy market are to blame. SSE now has 7.68 million customer accounts across the UK and Ireland.
November: SSE and Npower announced merger plans.
In the same month, energy regulator Ofgem closed its investigation into SSE’s conduct when switching customers to prepayment meters. It found that SSE didn’t take some customers through the right processes before installing a prepayment meter in 2014 and 2015, meaning that some ended up paying more and others weren’t given the chance to pay bills via Fuel Direct.
October: SSE said it will stop automatically rolling customers onto standard tariffs when their fixed deal ends from early next financial year. Instead, it will move customers onto an equivalent or cheapest fixed tariff.
September: SSE came 90th out of 100 in a Which? survey of best and worst big brands for customer service, with a customer service score of 70%.
April: SSE increased its prices by 6.9%, adding £72 on average in a year to the bills of the 2.8 million customers on its standard tariff. SSE blamed the increasing cost of supplying electricity for the price rise.