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Apr 2nd, 2012

The Big Switch Update: British Gas have dropped out

By Becca McCarthy

Phil Bentley, CEO of British Gas. Photograph by rofanator (Flickr)

British Gas have announced they have dropped out of the Big Switch.

British Gas claim that their decision not to take part is based on the fact that Which? haven’t been transparent about the fee from the winning gas and electricity company, which is around £40.

It is true that Which? will receive a fee from the winning gas and electricity company, of £40 per customer switching. Which? is a not-for-profit charity and these fees, paid by the energy company, will help cover the cost of the technology and customer advice service which Which? are contributing.

38 Degrees is not receiving any fees from The Big Switch. 38 Degrees is funded by small donations from thousands of members, which allow all of us to campaign on the issues which we care most about. You can read more about how 38 Degrees is funded here.

Which? has always been up front with 38 Degrees that The Big Switch requires a large investment in web technology and customer advice, and that they aim to cover their costs by charging a fee to energy companies. The 38 Degrees office team explored lots of different options for organising a collective switching project before deciding to partner with Which?. In the course of our research, it became clear to us that a partnership with Which? would give us the greatest chance of success, because of their track record and expertise in this field.

The switching fee is a standard feature of switching sites like the one run by Which?. It has been made clear on both the Which? site and the 38 Degrees web sites that Which? will be receiving a fee, and will be made clear again to each participant at the point when the deal has been negotiated and they are choosing whether or not to switch.

It’s disappointing that British Gas have chosen to refuse to participate in The Big Switch. But it is also a good example of why the gas and electricity market needs to be shaken up. Many gas and electricity companies are still taking part, and almost a quarter of a million of us are now involved, so we’re still optimistic about getting a good deal.

We’ve always known that The Big Switch represents a challenge to the power of the big gas and electricity companies, and that this is something they’re not necessarily going to be very keen on! However it’s still a bit ironic that British Gas, whose parent company have just announced £2.4bn profits, and their chief executive £1.3 million (before bonus), are choosing to criticise a charity for wanting to recover its costs.

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