Buying Power

How do you buy your power? Or, more specifically, how do you decide which company to buy your power from?

Here’s how I do it. Ever six months or so I go to uSwitch and spend five minutes researching who does the cheapest gas and electricity for our usage. If I find something that is much cheaper than our existing supplier then I’ll change. Most of the time I can make the change over the internet by simply following a link from the uSwitch site. Most of the time the differences are so small that it’s not worth changing.

One thing that I will never do is to sign on for a new power supplier from people who knock on my door and try to tell me a new supplier without giving me time to investigate their offers. Firstly, I think it’s incredibly rude to disturb people whilst they are at home, but mostly it’s the hard-sell tactics that I object to.

We had one last week. He was from npower, but they are all as bad. I noticed him as I was walking home, but realised that he was walking away from my house. When I got in, my wife said that he had knocked at the door but she had ignored him. But an hour or so later he came back. I answered the door and he immediately launched into his nonsense. Apparently, most of my neighbours had realised that he could save them money so they had all signed up. He didn’t have price data for my current supplier but he knew that he could save me money. I tried to explain to him how uSwitch works, but it seemed to just confuse him.

In the end I told him that I refused to do business with any company who called on me uninvited as I considered it rude. He started to argue that it wasn’t rude, but realised that he was wasting his time and retreated.

Ususally I just let these things go, but on this occasion I decided to take it further. Firstly I checked with Uswitch and, as I suspected, my supplier (Scottish Power in case you’re interested) we still the cheaper than npower by about a tenner a year. Then I emailed npower customer services to complain about them sending out uninformed and unethical sales people.

Today I got a reply from them. They were sorry to hear that I felt their sales representative was attempting to mislead me. They were also sure that normally “the standard of service offered by our Sales Team is professional and of the highest standard”. They also pointed out that if I sent them my address they would pass my details to their “Marketing Supression Team” which would stop me getting further visits.

That last item got me thinking. Of course, it’ll be an improvement if I get no more sales visits from npower. But there are many other power companies who delight in trying to mis-sell their services in this way. The absense of the npower team will scarely be noticed. Wouldn’t it be good if there was a industry-wide “Marketing Supression” list that all of the power companies signed up to. I can’t be the only person who gets annoyed by this.

I have no idea how effective these sales calls are. It must work to some extent as it’s a relatively sales method. I know those people won’t be paid much (and most of it will be commission), but there are a lot of them. I’m surprised that people listen to their nonsense, and I worry that they are preying on people who don’t have the presence of mind to think about what they are being told and therefore take it at face value. I suppose that if you’re told that “most of your neighbours are switching” and you’re not given a chance to check that out before signing, then some people will just accept it.

Until we can get an industry-wide marketing suppression list (or, better, banning this kind of selling) can any one recommend any good tactics for annoying these people?

And please, make use of uSwitch.


  1. I’m not that annoyed by the power people, but stopping the Jehova’s Witnesses etc would be nice – we get them quite a lot.

  2. I remain un-convinced that the answers you get from uSwitch actually amount of real savings.I spent about 10 hours one weekend comparing three different providers (e-on, bg and a-nother).uSwitch told me the difference between them was hundreds of pounds.But after you factored in all the “discounts” and “charges” that were added later (and there are many) the differences between the three companies varied by a few quid. Less than £10 per year.It is however nearly impossible to do – because they all use different ways to calculate their bills and many don’t really document how they do on their website. Hence why it took so long.I drew two conclusions from all this.(a) You can dramatically alter your bills by changing your habits. Turn the thermostat down a degree, turn off radiators in rooms you don’t use (if that applies) … use energy efficient bulbs, turn off lights. This CAN amount of £100s of pounds a year in savings.Get something like this which some suppliers will send you for free. And get an individual energy monitor like this Because of what I can understand about their business model, I personally do not believe uSwitch are impartial. They certainly heavily promoted a few companies at me, that on closer inspection did not save me as much as uSwitch suggested (although I do not claim uSwitch ever lied – they just side-stepped some ‘additional charges that might apply’)Concentrate on the companies that provide the best customer service and the sort of features you want (decent online billing for example).Dave – I’d be curious if you know how much actual hard cash you handed over to your energy suppliers over a year or two, and whether switching a “cheaper” tariff actually had any effect on this!Murray.

  3. Each year we spend a day of a weekend looking into the best energy deal for us, using a combination of price comparison websites and telephone calls direct to the companies. We don’t buy anything at the door and from our experience, energy sales representatives who go from door-to-door are pushy, inconsiderate, misleading in the reason why they are calling (a couple of weeks ago one tried to get into the property by insisting that he was just here to read the meter, and asked me to “get [my] husband” when I refused him entry) and very rarely offer a better, cheaper deal than the one we determine is the best for us.I don’t know how effective it is in terms of stopping energy supply salespeople from plying their trade, but it might be worth talking to your local residents’ association/trading standards department to look into the possibility of getting your area set up as a No Cold Calling Zone. If more zones are set up, it’ll provide a clear voice to companies and government that this isn’t what people want.

  4. @se71Actually, depending on my mood, I often quite enjoy getting Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormans at the door. I’ve been known (rarely) to invite them in for local theological debates. It’s interesting to probe how little they know about their religion.@mintywalkerYou raise good points. To be honest, it’s hard to know whether I actually do save any money as my usage varies from year to year. For example, at about the time I last changed, my step-daughter and her boyfriend moved in with us so our usage increased and all comparisons to previous years became void.But you’re right. It would be interesting to track the figures (both metre readings and actual costs) over time.@rozallinThat No Cold Calling Zone seems interesting. But it seems that the council are chosing where to set them up and they seem to be concentrating on roads with a high proportion of elderly people. I don’t think that really applies in my area as we’re mainly thrusting young urban professionals. I’ll certainly investigate further though.

  5. I completely agree that it’s rude to just show up on people’s doorstep to push your product on them, and I kind of feel the same about cold calls as well. A couple of years ago I had an unsolicited call from a very pushy young woman trying to get me to switch to a new energy supplier, I can’t remember who now but it was someone like nPower. She insisted their rates were so much lower than our existing supplier that we would probably stand to save a couple of hundred pounds per a year. Like most people, I wasn’t about to make a snap decision, based solely on her word, without doing any extra research to check the facts, but more to the point, I was in the middle of something at the time, and I’m pretty lazy when it comes to submitting to administrative hassle in order to save small amounts of money (I was sharing a rented flat with two other people, not knowing how long I would be living there, and aware that I would only enjoy a third of the promised saving, which was almost certainly inflated anyway – at best I would have been £1 better off each week). So I tried to politely tell her thanks, but no thanks. But she wasn’t having it, and basically refused to accept that I wasn’t interested in saving TWO HUNDRED POUNDS EVERY YEAR. I was in no mood to deal with the hassle I was getting from her and just wanted her off the line so, aware that she might actually be offering something worth accepting, I let her cajole me into agreeing a callback later that week to talk about it further (it seemed the only way she would accept the termination of our conversation). When she did call back I had pretty much forgotten all about it, but was in a more resolved state of mind, and told her flat I wasn’t interested in taking up the deal. Now, for all she knew this was the result of careful research into their prices and consideration of my particular situation (though in reality I just couldn’t be bothered!), but it didn’t stop her having a massive go at me for wasting her time, and challenging me to tell her why I had arranged a callback when I had no intention of taking up the offer! Sadly I was so surprised I didn’t have a particularly effective response, but I think I at least managed to say something about her original pushiness being to blame! I still get a sliver of satisfaction from the knowledge that I pissed her off so much :)

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