New Thinking Blog: Lets Shine a Light on the Gas Industry – Update on Switching from BG

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on Feb 20, 14 • posted by

New Thinking Blog: Lets Shine a Light on the Gas Industry – Update on Switching from BG

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Lets Shine a Light on the Gas Industry – Update on Switching from BG

Catherine Mitchell, IGov Team, 20th February, 2014

About Catherine:

On 8 January, I wrote a blog about my experience of switching from British Gas (BG) as my gas supplier to Good Energy (GE). My gas was switched to GE at the end of December 2013 and I had rang GE on 2 January 2014 with my gas meter reading. As I said at the time, the Good Energy side of things was straight forward but:

“This was not the case with trying to close my account with British Gas – still not done at the time of writing this blog. I rang BG several times but the estimated waiting time to speak to a representative was too long so I put the phone down each time. I then registered with BG so that I could go online and then found I have to cancel my direct debit with my bank and cannot close the account online – or if you can I could not find it. My new BG online account usefully told me I have a credit of £47.45 and the last £15 direct debit had entered my account on 1 January 2014, and my next instalment would go in on 1 Feb 20th. I assume I will have to contact BG to get my money back – and therefore will have to wait on the phone at some point to do that. A far preferable process would be that BG transfer any credit to GE automatically once GE has notified them of my switch, and closes my account as well”.

On 16 January, I rang British Gas (with a 10 minute wait time) to say that I had cancelled my direct debit and to ask that they send me my credit. The representative said that I had been accepted for switching but that the meter reading I had given GE had not yet got to them. In fact, he initially said GE had not sent the meter reading but corrected himself when I queried it. He also said to get in touch with BG in two weeks if my credit had not been sent to me. I then rang GE to check that they had sent BG my meter reading and was told (by a helpful and informed women) that every time someone rings GE to switch and with a meter reading, it is flagged on screen and sent off automatically to the intermediary body at a set time daily. This intermediary body then sends it on to BG. At that point, BG has to confirm that there are no problems with the switcher – ie in effect that I did not owe them money etc. The intermediary company then OKs the switch.

On 14 February, I rang British Gas to ask what had happened about my credit. The helpful woman said that my Direct Debit has been cancelled (as their website had told me to do) and that was possibly why my credit had not come through. She said she would initiate the credit of £35.83 payment and to expect it within 1-10 days. As of 20 February, no letter has arrived but then it appears I am one of 362,000 accounts BG lost in 2013, with another 100,000 moving so far this year.

As said above, the GE side of things was easy but closing down my account and getting my credit from BG has been time consuming and irritating. It is heartening to hear that SSE, BG, First Utility and EDF are joining E.on in automatically returning excess direct debit at one annual point. Something similar for switching customers needs to be put in place as well. It is also heartening to hear that 362,000 customers have switched from BG but this is still only 2%.  On the other side, it is astonishing to hear, given my experience of hopeless customer service, that BG made £571 million pounds profit in 2013 from the household sector (down 6% despite a 9.2% price rise), and parent Centrica made £2.7bn profit.

To conclude, my experience of GE could not be better but British Gas has been lumbering. If the Government wants more people to switch, then the process has to be improved but this is only one dimension of a much bigger gas and electricity market redesign which is needed if Britain is to have an efficient energy system capable of the change needed to meet our carbon targets.

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