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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Energy savings and exposing the switching sites

This is Big Energy Saving Week – an intensive information campaign that will urge people across the country to take advantage of cost-cutting schemes that could save them hundreds of pounds a year.

The advice is free, and can be obtained from any CAB or from www.bigenergysavingweek.org.uk or the campaign phoneline 0808 808 2282. In addition, local CABs are holding information events all week in communities across Scotland. Full details of all local events are available on Citizen Advice Scotland's Big Energy Saving Week page.

Launching the campaign, Citizens Advice Scotland’s Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said:

“Fuel poverty is one of the main issues that people bring to the CAB service. The bills keep rising, but peoples’ income levels struggle to keep up. As a result many households get into debt, and others have to make the choice between eating and heating. The good news is that help is available. There are many good schemes around. Some offer financial help, others help you insulate your home so you don’t have to use as much energy."

Scottish CABs also report that complaints about methods and techniques of gas and electricity sales rocketed sevenfold last year. The findings reflect problems with mis-selling and doorstep selling in the industry, which led to substantial fines for several energy suppliers in 2013.

Another way of cutting energy bills, all be it taking the long view is community energy. Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, has launched a £10m Urban Community Energy Fund to kick-start projects in England that could see one million homes supplied with electricity from “home-made” generation by 2020. Neighboring households are being encouraged to group together to apply for the funding, which could pay for solar panels, wind turbines or hydro-electric generators that could save families hundreds of pounds a year in fuel bills. Self evidently, £10m is not going to go far, so this looks like a bit of a gimmick.

Meanwhile, Co-op energy has had a long overdue pop at the energy switching websites. Ramsay Dunning, group general manager, claimed that sites “funnel” people towards companies that have agreed to pay commission if a customer is sent their way. He said, “Switching sites increase prices to customers. They are taking a lot of money out of the system now. They also have a tendency to mislead customers. Customers go to them thinking they are getting impartial advice and they are getting the whole market, every product in the market. They are not, they are getting those with commercial deals - unless they have discovered how to wind their way through the switching sites.”

This has sparked outrage from switching sites that like to portray themselves as customer champions. One of them interviewed on the BBC could not have been more evasive when asked difficult questions. Co-op energy argue that there should be an independent switching site run on a not for profit basis. An excellent proposal and credit for going where other energy companies feared to tread.

Crossposted at Utilities Scotland


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