An investigation at shopping centres and supermarkets has revealed that energy salespeople are employing underhand tactics which leave consumers hundreds of pounds worse off.
Which? found individuals claiming consumers would save up to £142, when a switch would actually leave them worse off.
MisleadingThe consumer group found that salespeople focused to a large extent on special offers - such as free vouchers or discounts.
They then calculated the potential saving based on the assumption that shoppers were all on the standard tariff of their energy supplier. This inevitably showed a saving, as standard tariffs are expensive, but customers on a cheaper tariff than the standard would be left worse off by switching.
The difference is fairly dramatic. Assuming someone is on a standard tariff, the investigators found that the salespeople could quote savings of between £20 and £142. However, when doing the maths based on their actual tariff, customers could actually have been between £39 and £311 worse off.
Dodgy tacticsHowever, the salespeople refused to accept the difference. In fact, even when the undercover researchers returned to the salesperson after the sale to provide them with the name of their cheaper tariff, none altered the quoted savings, and only half said it could make a difference to the amount saved.
When researchers asked the salespeople in supermarkets and shopping centres about better deals, only two out of 13 admitted there might be better deals available.
Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, says: "It's simply not good enough for energy salespeople to be quoting misleading individual savings to people who sign up to switch in supermarkets. It's little wonder that trust in the energy sector is so low."
It is worth, therefore, being very careful before signing up to a deal from a salesperson in a supermarket or shopping centre. If you have already signed, check the deal and whether you can cancel or switch back.
Don Paddon, a customer who cancelled their deal after checking with Which?, said: "I was approached in Sainsbury's supermarket by a rep who claimed to be able to save me £240 a year and give triple Nectar points on the payments made. I signed up but once home I went to the Which? Switch site and found that my present provider, was in fact the cheapest provider I could have. I cancelled."
Telephone issuesHowever, sticking with telephone switching isn't the answer either. In a separate investigation, Which? also found that when people call up energy companies asking for the cheapest deal, they might not be getting accurate information and quotes every time.
While four of the major energy suppliers performed well, British Gas and Eon still got it wrong.
The answerAs ever, the answer is to do your own research and put in the legwork yourself. The only way to check the tariffs available to you is through an online comparison on a number of sites, including the full information from your energy bills. It will take you half an hour, which may seem more effort than a quick chat with a salesperson in a supermarket, but you could stand to save hundreds of pounds - rather than actually seeing your bills increase.
Which? is also highlighting an alternative. It is launching The Big Switch, which is encouraging people to sign up to a collective deal to benefit from a better rate. At the moment 800,000 people have signed up to use their collective buying power, and we have until 31 March to sign up at www.whichbigswitch.co.uk.
There's nothing to lose from giving this a bash. After the end of March the campaigners will invite energy companies to offer as good a deal as possible to those who have signed up. If it's no cheaper than your current deal, you don't have to switch, and if it is better, you could save substantially without much effort - and without having to deal with dodgy salespeople.