The UK’s biggest price comparison sites have been accused of hiding the cheapest energy deals from their customers, in an effort to promote providers that pay them a commission.
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The Big Deal, a collective switching site, has accused five of its major rivals of using the same approach to filter out the best deals from the majority of customer searches.
It said the websites of uSwitch, Compare the Market, MoneySuperMarket, Go Compare and Confused.com all ask visitors if they want to switch energy providers immediately. If consumers click ‘yes’, all deals that do not offer the company a commission are excluded, The Big Deal has claimed.
The relative newcomer to the market said it has written to each of the five companies asking them to remove the filter. It has also called on the Competition and Markets Authority to expand its ongoing investigation into the energy market to scrutinise the conduct of the websites.
“The price comparison sites are worth hundreds of millions of pounds, make huge profits and, with over five million people switching a year, are a major part of the energy market. Yet there is no transparency to how they make their money or how much they charge,” The Big Deal said.
In response, each of the five companies have insisted that their websites are transparent and comply with Ofgem’s code of practice, denying any wrongdoing.
In a statement, uSwitch said, “Customers have the clear option to compare plans across the whole energy market on our site. We do not pre-select a default answer when giving them this choice, nor do we in any way influence what they should select.
“Price comparison websites have played a crucial role in stimulating competition by enabling new, smaller providers to challenge the dominance of the big six energy companies, driving down prices and improving customer service.”
Dan Plant, editor-in-chief of MoneySuperMarket, added, “Currently the cheapest 10 tariffs on the market are shown to all customers using our website – switching to one of these would save many households hundreds of pounds per year.”
However, market regulator Ofgem has revealed it is considering a revision of its rules that would require comparison sites to show all the tariffs on offer.
With energy bills rising, many politicians have urged customers to shop around for cheaper deals. In June, Ofgem announced reforms that will allow all customers to switch energy suppliers within three days by the end of the year.
However, campaigners say this is only a temporary fix and have called for more to be done to bring bills down and help households that are slipping into energy poverty.
A survey published in September revealed that energy bills are consumers’ biggest spending worry this winter, far ahead of their weekly shop and Christmas presents.
Significantly, the poll also found that 46% of households are more concerned about being able to afford their energy bills this winter than they were in 2013.
Photo: Tom Page via Flickr