It’s safe to say that energy companies are not everyone’s best friend in 2014. Nor are they top of our Christmas card lists — especially when what the send us back in the post isn’t nearly as welcome. And with findings such as this recent discovery from Ofgem, it’s really not surprising.
Of course a large aspect to the smooth running of the energy industry is the power in the hands of the consumer to switch their energy provider. That’s where Business Gas.com can help, tracking the market to find the best deal for your business, and then facilitating that switch. However, that only works if all parties allow the customer to transfer smoothly to other deals. And it has now come to light that British Gas have been unfairly blocking their own customers from doing so. Many of these customers were small businesses, perhaps much like your own, prevented by British Gas from moving to more competitive deals, and cheaper tariffs, at the end of their contract.
The government make great play of the power of the consumer to make their switch… now as fundamental as the switch that turns the lights off and on in the first place. However, if this aspect of the market is tampered with, it brings the whole model crashing down.
So what happened? Well put simply, British Gas failed to inform customers when their contracts were ending — as they are contractually obliged to do – at which point they can legitimately move to another tariff. Equally, further errors actually hindered businesses who were seeking new deals. We may perhaps agree with British Gas that this was down to genuine error on their part, with the provider claiming faults in their computer system meant that 1,000 business customers were not informed their contract was coming to an end. Whatever the reason, this meant they were unaware they were able to contract a broker such as Business Gas.com to help them source a more competitive deal.
Under certain contract deals, or where monies are still owed to British Gas, the provider is legally able to block customers moving. However, due to this computer issue, nearly 6% of such blocks were found to be erroneous. British Gas is owned by Centrica, and is one of the so-called “Big 6”. Just the business side of British Gas alone has 500,000 customers, so that represents a great many affected businesses.
In this instance Ofgem has promptly stepped in, issuing a fine of £5.6 million, which includes a payout of £1.4 million to affected businesses, as well as fines and a demand to contribute towards energy-efficient measures for businesses. Ofgem also pointed out the fine would have been more if British Gas hadn’t co-operated in the investigation. British Gas have since apologised, and responded that they have changed computer systems to make sure the same mistake doesn’t reoccur. Meanwhile more cynical analysts might point out they generated hundreds of millions of pounds by preventing businesses leaving, of which a fine of £5.6 million stands as a pretty good business investment.
In any case, the ruling is welcome news, and means that even more customers can now turn to brokers such as Business Gas, to ensure they are on the most competitive deal in the marketplace.