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Ethical shopping...for an energy supplier

ethical energy supplier

It's not very often that I talk about my 'real job' on here. I work in the utilities industry and it's a bit on the dull side. I work for a consultancy and we organise company's utility contracts and lower their consumption...yeah.yeah, I know you don't care. However, working in this situations means I can rattle on about tariff comparison rates, renter rights, smart meters and ethical suppliers as if it's my job (because it is). 

And the ethical part is what I'm discussing today, because y'all know I'm big on the ethical shopping. Whilst shopping around for an ethical energy supplier is nowhere as riveting as a shopping for a cruelty-free, vegan, organic, fair trade is a form of ethical shopping that could actually leave more money in your pocket to spend on that cruelty-free, vegan, organic, fair trade foundation. You see, ethical in the utilities industry isn't just renewables and paper-free billing; it's about not ripping people off (which is what a lot of suppliers do). Ethical shopping can be something which is reserved for middle-class folks however choosing an ethical energy supplier is a moral consumer choice which is cost accessible for majority of people.

I'm not exactly huge on sharing my financial information on the Internet but for the purpose of creating a scene. When I moved into my current flat I was paying £112 a month for electricity (ouch!) from Scottish Power but when I switched to Ovo Energy it fell to £52 a month. My bill more than halved and I'm now with a supplier who isn't a member of the Big Six, on a tariff with is partially renewable and receive paperless billing. See what I mean about the ethical option being the cheapest option?

So where to start?

Choosing a smaller supplier
You may or may not be familiar with the term 'big six' - but it refers to the six main energy players in the UK. And I can assure you they deserve the hate they get in the press and no ethically savvy shopper would have them heating their home (we're talking about British Gas, SSE, nPower, EDF, E.On and Scottish Power). When I was researching suppliers I didn't even consider the big six, as I consider myself an active boycotter.

Comparison sites/DIY
When I'm researching for my flat (I'll do it again next winter) I run my details through comparison sites to get a flavour of what's available at my address, but then I go to the supplier website and get a quote directly from them. The difference between the quote offered on a comparison site and a quote from the supplier itself can be considerable. Oh, and comparison sites make commissions (they're effectively brokers/middle-men).

What are you wanting from a supplier?
I went with Ovo because it offered me a waaayyyy cheaper deal than any other supplier and being on a graduate income I decided that getting something cheap was more important than signing up with the bee-knees of the energy industry. However if situations were different I would have went with Good Energy who have a very good customer service rating and are 100% renewable (but with Ovo I still get a partially renewable tariff and I'm still sticking it to the big six) and their owner didn't donate a heap of money to the Labour party (looking at you Ecotricity).

Keeping up to date and familiarising yourself with the industry
The comparison site USwitch has a fantastic blog and Facebook page, and it's great place to keep up with domestic energy news. And as much as I hate the Daily Mail, their financial section This is Money is also a good place to start. My parents are also members of Which? and I have their login details and I make very few big purchases without it. The industry news site Utility Week is informative however without buying a subscription you can only read a limited number of articles a week, so only read information regarding domestic energy (and not, say the story on electricity transmission charges  - that's the kind of stuff I read).

Fixed price versus variable
Essentially a variable rate will mean you bill moves up and down depending on your usage. Whereas a fixed rate you only pay a certain amount each month regardless of your usage. A fixed rate tariff is however usually for a fixed amount of time. The basic rule is if you're a high energy user (work from home etc) a fixed rate would work best but if you're a low energy users (rarely in the house) then a variable rate would be the better option. My personal advice is that you should only choose a fixed rate if you've been switching for a good number of years and know what's a good price for your property and can be certain you'll be better off.

Renting and home ownership
What a lot of people don't know (and I also didn't know until I started my current job) is that renters have the right to choose their own supplier. The only situation a renter isn't allowed to choose is if they aren't responsible for paying the energy bills (i.e. utilities are included in the rent). If it's your name on the bills, it's your decision. The only thing renters need to be aware of is that the landlord can insist they change the supplier back when they move out, so don't choose a fixed term contract (unless you've spoken to your landlord).

Check your credit levels when you leave a supplier
A lot of suppliers work on a credit and debit basis where you pay the same amount each month and is designed to balance out the higher costs in the winter (but you'll pay a bit extra in the summer). When switching check if you have a credit balance and if so make sure you get it back (and it's best to claim it back before you announce you're leaving them). And avoid switching when your account is in debit.

How often should you switch
The guidance is every year. If you're on a fixed contract don't renew without checking other offers and if you're on flexible tariff it's still a good idea to check it every year. Just remember to check when you're account is in credit.

My experience with Ovo Energy
This was by far the cheapest option. However I've had the odd nuisance with them but for the price I haven't made that much of a fuss. I have two supplies in my flat, and when I applied to switch they only thought I wanted to change one supply which caused Scottish Power to block the move. Then, when they applied to switch them both they made one supply variable and one supply fixed. Thankfully I'm renting my current flat long term so it could be worse but they should have checked! But this is nothing compared to Scottish Power (who were banned from taking on more customers because their service was that shocking). I'm happy with them due to how cheap they are, but if you can afford something better I'd say go better.

As mentioned it's my job to know all this and there's information that I couldn't fit into one blog post. However, if you're now inspired to switch your supplier I'm more than happy to answer any questions. And if I don't know the answer someone in my work probably will.

Happy ethical energy switching! 
 Morag x
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