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MPs to investigate price comparison websites

An influential group of MPs are going to investigate price comparison websites for dodgy behaviour. This is great news for consumers.

Today the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee announced an investigation into energy price comparison websites (press release copied below). In October The Big Deal published research spanning 13 weeks and including over 200 screenshots that showed that the Big Five energy switching websites (Go Compare, Compare the Market, MoneySupermarket, uSwitch and Confused) all hide the cheapest deals from users because they don't get paid by energy companies for them.

Responding to the announcement, Will Hodson, co-founder of The Big Deal, said:

"It's time to clamp down on kickback culture in price comparison. For too long, these self-styled 'consumer champions' have taken liberties with a trusting public. This investigation is vitally needed and should lead to a more transparent, more competitive energy retail market. If the price comparison websites have got nothing to hide then they should welcome this investigation."

The Big Deal's research in price comparison sites found:

  • All the major price comparison websites hid the cheapest deal from customers. Many for weeks on end.
  • uSwitch, the largest energy switching website, never showed the cheapest deal. It regularly hid three out of the top five cheapest deals.
  • Every site uses a mechanism to hide deals where they ask users if they want to see deals they can switch to "today" or "now".
  • Clicking "Yes" filters out all deals which do not earn the price comparison site a commission from the energy company. Often these deals are the cheapest.
  • Money Supermarket and Confused pre-fill this question "Yes".
  • Compare the Market and Go Compare automatically show users the results without even asking this question. You have to go through several screens to "filter your results" to see the cheapest deals.
  • Overall price comparison sites hid almost a third of deals from customers via this method.
  • The full research including over 200 screenshots is available here: https://thisisthebigdeal.com/blog/research-into-price-comparison-websites

Polling carried out by Populus found:

  • 79 per cent think price comparison sites should automatically show the lowest tariffs whether they receive a commission or not from the energy company. Just 7 per cent disagree.
  • 74 per cent think sites should say how much money they make in commission from each energy provider. Just 5 per cent think they shouldn't reveal this information
  • 47 per cent of people think switching sites are untrustworthy compared to 39 per cent who think switching sites are trustworthy.
  • 43 per cent are unaware that switching sites charge commission

The Big Deal is a collective bargaining organisation for cheaper energy bills. It brings people together to harness their collective buying power to deliver lower bills. It launched in March 2014 and in total there are over 40,000 members. Over 60% of whom have never or hardly ever switched before. Our last switch saw us create the cheapest energy on the market saving the British public over £1.5 million and the average family £303.

Below is the full announcement from the Select Committee

Energy and Climate Change Committee
Select Committee Announcement 38

For Immediate Release:

COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE ENERGY PRICE COMPARISON WEBSITES - CALL FOR EVIDENCE

The Energy and Climate Change Committee will take evidence on Energy price comparison websites in early 2015 (date tbc). Energy price comparison websites play an important role in helping consumers switch energy supplier by providing comparisons of different energy plans. In recent months concerns have been raised about the way in which these websites operate.

The evidence session will explore a range of issues, including:

· The role of energy price comparison websites and how they operate;
· Transparency of commission received for different energy plans;
· Consumer trust in energy price comparison websites; and
· Arrangements for oversight of these websites, for example through the 'Confidence Code', a Code of Practice that governs independent energy price comparison sites.

We would welcome submissions of written evidence to help inform this session by 14 January 2015.
NOTES ON SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN EVIDENCE

Written submissions for this inquiry should be submitted via the inquiry page on the Energy and Climate Change Committee website.

The deadline is Wednesday 14 January 2015. As a guideline submissions should state clearly who the submission is from e.g. 'Written evidence submitted by xxxx' and be no longer than 3000 words; please contact the Committee staff if you wish to discuss this. If you need to send hard copy please send it to: The Clerk, Energy and Climate Change Committee, 14 Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9NB.

Submissions must be a self-contained memorandum in Word or Rich Text Format (not PDFs). Paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference and the document should, if possible, include an executive summary.

Submissions should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere. Once submitted, your submission becomes the property of the Committee and no public use should be made of it unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. Please bear in mind that Committees are not able to investigate individual cases.

The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to publish the written evidence it receives, either by printing the evidence, publishing it on the internet or by making it publicly available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure; the Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.

The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Announcement 38, 18 December 2014

More information can be found on the Committee website at: www.parliament.uk/ecc

Media Enquiries: Nick Davies, Tel: 020 7219 3297, e-mail: daviesnick@parliament.uk

Specific Committee Information: Tel: 020 7219 2569, e-mail: ecc@parliament.uk

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk

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In case you missed it: Tim Yeo on You and Yours - 22nd December 2014