With utility costs continuing to spiral, it's more important than ever for business consumers to take control of their energy supply arrangements, says gas and electricity consumer watchdog EnergyWatch. Paul Savage, head of Energywatch's business service, offers some helpful tips.
Everybody knows that energy prices have risen over the past three years with no sign of relief in the near future, but you may not know that business customers have much less protection in the energy market than domestic customers.
For instance, domestic customers can change suppliers every month if they want to, but businesses sign fixed term contracts of up to a year or more and can usually only switch when their contract expires.
There is no cooling-off period for the business user so once a deal has been struck, even over the phone, it is legally binding.
Furthermore, suppliers are not bound by any code of practice on selling to business consumers. And there are no price comparison services for businesses, so you need to shop around.
If you are thinking of changing your gas or electricity supplier here are some tips to help the process run smoothly.
Shop around - don't wait to be called, contact a range of suppliers for quotes.
Beware of cold calls - a verbal contract is usually binding so don't agree to anything unless you are sure you want to take up the offer. Don't rely on comparisons with your current deal or with other suppliers without checking - the caller wants you to agree and he won't be around when the first bill comes in. Ask the caller for copies of proposed offers so you can take time to consider them.
When you compare offers, make sure you compare terms and conditions as well as price as some contracts allow price rises to be passed on without allowing you to switch.
Allow yourself enough time as changing supplier can take six weeks or more and you will be billed at higher "out-of-contract rates" if your contract ends before the transfer is complete.
Know your consumption - make sure you know how much energy you use over a year (based on meter readings not estimates) together with the unit price and any standing charge and use this to compare offers. It might be cheaper to stay where you are. Don't rely on promises to "cut your direct debit".
Energywatch deals with around 2,500 business contacts each month, mostly from business consumers who have received less than fair treatment from suppliers either directly or indirectly via a broker.
Change within the industry takes time so as we work towards levelling the playing field please follow our advice, take control and minimise your risks.
For further information, Energywatch and the Energy Retailers Association have produced a booklet called "Changing Your Business's Energy Supplier". A pdf of the booklet is available here.
The tips above are not an exhaustive list, so for free help and advice please call Energywatch on 0845 90 60 708, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org