The dangers of comparison websites when searching for the cheapest gas and electricity.
The price of domestic gas and electricity has been a regular topic in the UK press over the last couple of weeks and for good reason. The current round of price increases that have just come into effect from many of the big utility companies have hit many people hard, not least the elderly and the lower wage earners. It is estimated that those who remained with their original supplier are now paying 20 – 30 percent more for their domestic fuel than those who have switched. With the current 14.2% extra added to the bill, and with the figures banded around that British Gas has lost nearly half a million customers this year alone, it is no surprise that the British public are saying enough is enough. Privatisation and deregulation was supposed to put an end to the exorbitant prices these monopolies once could charge, but from where I stand, loyalty only seems to be rewarded by fleecing. New customers of these giant utility companies are treated preferentially to get them on board but only for a very short period before they too are moved to the ‘standard rate’ higher charges.
So the answer for the savvy consumer is to shop around – but therein lies another problem. Phoning around for quotes or visiting showrooms (those that are left) is time consuming. Very time consuming... and also challenging in so far as making the comparisons between all the different tariffs and options available. Hence, many are using the internet to do their searching. Typing “gas and electricity comparison” into a search field such as you’ll find on the Yahoo! homepage brings up plenty of sites claiming to make an ‘independent’ comparison. Probably the best known of these is Uswitch.com. I’ve read several articles recently in leading national papers extolling the virtues of these ‘independent and unbiased websites’ and how they “give you a completely impartial and objective assessment that leads to recommending the absolute best deal for you”.
But please, before you go off and start entering all your personal details into one of these online services, I implore you to stop and think just for one minute. How do you suppose these huge sites – that take a lot of man-hours to continually update and maintain – make their money? As a general rule, they don’t have lots of advertising banners plastered all over each page so they must get their revenue from elsewhere. And, yes, just like most other advisers or consultants, they get it from commissions. These are paid by the big corporate utilities to these ‘independent’ websites for each consumer that switches to them through the website.
Doing a little research by typing in exactly the same details, I found that different comparison websites produce different results even when they list the same companies! Clearly some of these websites are getting bigger commissions by recommending me certain deals over others. As well as having a tendency to recommend the deal that best suits them, they also only list ones that they can get a commission for, which mean not all of them list every option available for the individual consumer.
Getting the cheapest gas and electricity shouldn’t be such a trial… but then again maybe that is what the big utility companies are relying on! Too bad you and I now know differently…