Energy price hikes have become something of a seasonal event in recent years: autumn closes out, winter rears its head and the Big Six take it in turns to announce their respective increases. Public backlash follows.
It's a familiar pattern, but the latest round of rises has proved more colourful than many would have predicted. Bouts of political jostling, promises of price freezes, accusations of monopolisation and battles over green levies have added fuel to the fire. The story's been bigger than the usual identification of discrepancies between eye-watering supplier profits and gut-wrenching fuel poverty figures.
The furore seems to have lasted longer than usual. More than three months have passed since 10th October when SSE became the first of the Big Six to announce price hikes, and energy remains high on the media agenda.
Figures show that more than 615,000 people switched their electricity supplier in November 2013 - the highest number ever recorded in the space of a month
The immediate good news to come out of this is that consumers have taken matters into their own hands - and they've done so to an extent they never have before.
ElectraLink figures show that more than 615,000 people switched their electricity supplier in November 2013 - the highest number ever recorded in the space of a month. Many also demonstrated their disillusionment with major companies by switching their supply to a smaller firm, and by the end of last year a notable 26% of switchers had signed up with a supplier outside of the Big Six.
As the stats reveal, consumers are increasingly opting for independent companies that are less associated with annual price hikes. After all, it's the Big Six that always take a hammering for rising bills in the press, and it'stheirbosses who are dragged in front of politicians to justify their actions.
And new figures from Which? suggest that customers have bigger problems than just price. According to the watchdog's latest energy company survey, consumer satisfaction with the Big Six is at an all-time low, standing at an average of 41%. When that's compared with the 82% boasted by Ecotricity and Good Energy, the depths are especially striking. Indeed, in a league table of the seventeen companies surveyed, the bottom six places are occupied by the larger suppliers.
Unhappy with prices, unhappy with service. And with consumers being warned that prices may increase by a further £200 by the end of the decade, the outlook is far from rosy.
Yet while bad news tends to create inertia, energy customers have more power than they think. One way to effect change in the energy market is to engage with it - to call for reform and protect ourselves from its pitfalls by switching suppler.
November's record figures are promising, but the number who changed provider in December dropped to a disappointing 391,000. If the biggest companies are to really feel the impact of people's frustration then that figure has to multiply by a factor of 10, and things can't drop off once price rise fever has died down.
If other markets are anything to go by, increased competition will bring about more competitive pricing. At the very least, energy companies will need to shake up their customer service offering to hold onto mobilised consumers who aren't afraid to shop around.
Should enough households take action, we could start to see clearer signs of a healthy, fully functioning energy market full of happy consumers. As far as the numbers are concerned, if we have a year full of Novembers then the landscape could be well and truly unrecognisable come 2015.
Image credit: Images Money
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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