If you're switching between many of the big energy providers you'll now benefit from 10 'commitments' guaranteeing a smooth and hassle-free transition – but if suppliers fail to deliver, you may still need to get the Ombudsman involved.
Key pledges made in the Energy Switching Guarantee include switches being completed within 21 days, a 14-day 'cooling off' period (in case you change your mind) and a promise you'll be sent your final bill from your old provider within six weeks.
But it's important to note these promises only apply if both your old and new supplier have signed up to the guarantee.
Trade body Energy UK, which represents energy firms, drew up the 10-point guarantee with input from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, regulator Ofgem and Citizens Advice.
The firms which have signed the guarantee provide energy to around 70% of UK households – they include British Gas, EDF Energy, E.on, First Utility, Flow Energy, Npower, Octopus Energy, So Energy and Sainsbury's Energy (which is supplied by British Gas).
You can use our free Cheap Energy Club to find the cheapest tariff for you.
What exactly is in the guarantee?
The switching commitments are:
- Your supply won't be disrupted.
- Switching is free.
- Switching will take no more than 21 days from the date your new provider receives your application.
- Your new provider won't need to visit your home to complete the switch (unless you agree otherwise).
- Your new provider arranges the switch, including contacting your current provider.
- Your new supplier will send you details of your new supply agreement for you to check. You'll have 14 days to change your mind.
- Your new and current providers will work together to ensure you're not charged twice for the same energy.
- If there are any problems with the switch, your new provider will contact you as soon as possible and will be responsible for resolving problems.
- Your current provider will send you your final bill no later than six weeks after the switch.
- If your current provider owes you money, it will refund you no later than 14 days after sending you the final bill.
So has anything really changed?
Probably the most eye-catching pledge is the commitment to switch you within 21 days. The terms of energy suppliers' licences currently state that customer switches must happen within five weeks – so in theory, the 21-day commitment is a significant improvement.
However, many suppliers already do switching much more quickly – often within as little as 17 days – so in practice many won't notice a difference. What's more, if the 21-day pledge isn't adhered to, there's no immediate redress. You'll still have to complain to the supplier in the first instance.
Energy UK admits many suppliers already offer the commitments in the guarantee, but says the 10 commitments offer "clear outlines of what to expect from the switching process".
A spokesperson at the Energy Ombudsman Service told us the guarantee was about "driving up standards" and said the publicity around it might make consumers more aware of their rights when switches go wrong.
What if a company breaks one of the pledges?
An Energy UK spokesperson told us it would scrutinise suppliers' performance, and those who failed to uphold the guarantee could face "robust sanctions", including being suspended from or kicked out of the guarantee scheme.
But if you, as the customer, want to complain about problems switching, the process is exactly the same as before – you must contact your supplier first, and if you're not satisfied with their response you can escalate it to the Energy Ombudsman Service after eight weeks.
The Ombudsman told us it will handle complaints in the same way whether or not the firm being complained about is signed up to the guarantee. See more on how to complain about your provider in our Cheap Gas and Electricity guide.
Which suppliers haven't signed up to the guarantee?
Notably only four of the big six energy suppliers are currently signed up to the guarantee: British Gas, EDF Energy, E.on and Npower.
Scottish Power is in the process of joining, but SSE isn't and doesn't have a timeframe for doing so.
A spokesperson for SSE says: "SSE has worked with the rest of the industry to develop these new commitments. However, there are changes that would need to be made to our present systems and processes for us to meet the standards set in the switch guarantee.
"As such we have made the decision not to sign up to the guarantee until we are able to honour the guarantee commitments every time a customer chooses to switch."