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Switching Suppliers

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 28 November 2013

2. What assessment he has made of the process involved when a Scottish and Southern Energy customer on its “Total Heating, Total Control” tariff tries to switch to another electricity supplier. (901299)

The ability to switch supplier is a key driver of a competitive market, and it is important that we address areas where this is difficult. I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss with my hon. Friend the particular difficulties faced by customers on the “Total Heating, Total Control” tariff.

The Government are right to encourage people to switch their supplier to get a better deal. However, consumers on SSE’s “Total Heating, Total Control” tariff find in practice that they cannot switch because wiring and meters need to be changed and other suppliers simply do not want to know. What can my right hon. Friend do to make it easier for these consumers to switch?

My hon. Friend is right to say that customers who have dynamic teleswitched meters inevitably have a narrower choice of supplier. It is therefore all the more important that Ofgem ensures that the tariffs they are on are kept reasonable. I would like to discuss further with him how we might help those particular customers to switch more easily.

Following on from what the Minister just said, one reason why people want to switch from this tariff is that they are finding that although the headline increase announced by the company is high enough, they are being quoted sometimes twice that increase in their electricity prices. Is there anything he can do to press Ofgem on why there is such a huge increase in this tariff?

I shall certainly do that. When Ofgem last looked at this tariff, it thought that the price was reasonable compared with some other time-of-use tariffs offered by other suppliers, such as Economy 7. However, I am very happy to take the matter up again with Ofgem.

In taking the issue up with Ofgem, the Minister needs to emphasise just how trapped these people feel. They feel that they cannot shop around and they want to be completely reassured that they are getting the fairest deal possible. In the long run, will he examine whether it would be worth accelerating and prioritising the roll-out of smart meters for these customers to make it easier for them to switch?

As I have said, it is not satisfactory that dynamic teleswitched meter customers have a choice of fewer suppliers than other customers, although there are technical reasons for that. I am happy to take this matter up again with Ofgem to see what we can do to make it easier for such customers to switch.

A number of my constituents who have switched recently have been hit by significant charges—in one case, thousands of pounds. Given that switching is the Government’s main policy on energy, what can they do to ensure that mistakes are not being made by energy companies and that there is a fair deal for all customers who switch?

If the charges are at that level, it is clearly unacceptable. We will look at this with Ofgem to make sure that everybody is entitled to a choice— everybody is entitled to switch—and if there are particular difficulties with dynamic teleswitched meters, they need to be looked at.