Gas and electricity Updated:
Industry regulator Ofgem has announced plans to increase transparency in the gas and electricity market, with the ultimate aim being to help consumers get a better deal and find out how they can switch to a cheaper tariff.
From October, suppliers with "white labels" – those who don't have a supply licence of their own, but who work in partnership with a licenced supplier to offer energy using their own brands – will be required to tell customers which tariff is cheapest for them, whatever brand it's sold under.
Under current regulations, suppliers already have to tell customers about their cheapest deal, but until now this rule hasn't extended to white label tariffs. This will soon be a thing of the past, as Ofgem wants to ensure that suppliers are crystal clear with their customers about their cheapest tariffs.
As an example, British Gas will be required to tell customers if they could get a cheaper deal with Sainsbury's Energy – the retailer uses British Gas' supply and is therefore a "white label" brand of the supplier – and vice versa, rather than just outlining their own cheapest deals. The same rules will apply to arrangements between suppliers like SSE and M&S Energy.
Often, consumers aren't aware that several different brands operate under the same parent supplier, so this rule change will go a long way to increasing transparency in the sector. Ideally it'll mean customers can save some money, too, and could even open the market to more suppliers and increased competition.
"Selling energy through white label brands has the potential to increase consumer choice and engage consumers to shop around through well-known brands," said Rachel Fletcher, Ofgem senior partner. "But it is important that consumers are given the complete picture about all their supplier's tariffs.
"We are acting to reduce barriers to white labels entering the market and to ensure suppliers tell their customers what the cheapest deal is for them, whatever brand it is marketed under. Transparency about the cheapest tariff that a supplier offers is important in rebuilding consumer trust in the market."
It's certainly welcome news for consumers as it means they'll have a better understanding of the tariff that will be right for them, but will it be enough to ensure you're paying as little as possible? Probably not – and a bit of pro-activity will still be vital.
"Any move that raises consumer awareness of the cheapest deal from their supplier is positive," said Matt Ridout, researcher at energyhelpline.com, "but to get a full picture of the cheapest deals from all suppliers, consumers still need to shop the market.
"Often, a better tariff can be found with another energy company. A whole of market price comparison provides a quick and easy way to see who is offering the best deals, so why pay more when you can save up to hundreds of pounds a year on bills instead? It's easy to shop around and switch."
Compare energy tariffs to make sure you're getting the right deal
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