Energy price comparison websites accused of hiding best deals by new entrant the Big Deal

21st October 2014

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The Big Deal, a new collective switching website, has accused the UK’s biggest price comparison websites including uSwitch and MoneySuperMarket of hiding the best energy deals from consumers.

Comparison websites have vigorously defended themselves against the claims by The Big Deal, which is working in partnership with The Sun newspaper to bring together a large group of consumers in order to negotiate cheaper energy deals by using collective bargaining.

However, GoCompare.com one of the websites criticised in the research claims it is nothing but a “highly-orchestrated PR campaign”.

The Big Deal asserts that its research shows that these sites may be breaking EU consumer protection law and it has written to politicians urging them to act. It said: “We’ve written to the five biggest sites – Compare the Market, Go Compare, uSwitch, MoneySupermarket and Confused – asking that they stop this activity.

“We’ve also asked Government to take action, the Competition and Markets Authority to expand their inquiry into the energy market to include these sites and the EU Competition Commission to investigate their actions.”

The Big Deal says it found that all the major players hid the cheapest deal from customers, and many for weeks on end. It said that uSwitch, the largest energy switching website, never showed the best deal and that it “regularly hid three out of the top five cheapest deals”.

The Big Deal added that 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”.

It explained that by clicking “Yes”, it filters out all deals, which do not earn the price comparison site a commission from the energy company, and that often these deals are the cheapest.

It said that MoneySuperMarket and Confused pre-fill this question “Yes” and that Compare the Market and Go Compare automatically show users the results without even asking this question and that users have to go through several screens to “filter your results” to see the cheapest deals.

It concluded that overall price comparison sites hid almost a third of deals from customers via this method.

All five comparison websites said they complied with Ofgem standards and that they save customers millions of pounds per year on their bills.

GoCompare.com hit back at the claims saying the research was “highly selective” and that on all the days the site was reviewed by The Big Deal, the cheapest deal was the same whether the customer selected “all deals” or just those that could be switched to via the website.

Jeremy Cryer, of GoCompare.com, said: “The Big Deal’s findings just don’t stack up. We help consumers compare over 150 tariffs and make it clear on our results screen that, whilst many are available to buy through Gocompare.com, there are more tariffs available across the market and customers can view those tariffs without having to leave the results screen.

“By comparison, The Big Deal only provides people with access to one tariff with no guarantee at all that it is market leading.  It doesn’t compare that tariff against any other deals, let alone the whole market, so anyone joining a collective switch scheme would still need to shop around to make sure that they are getting the best tariff for them and comparison sites are the single best way to do that quickly and easily.”

uSwitch.com customers have the clear option to compare plans across the whole energy market on its 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,” he added.

Dan Plant, editor-in-chief of MoneySuperMarket, said: “The option for customers to filter results to only see products they can buy through MoneySuperMarket.com is displayed clearly and prominently, and is necessary as some providers choose not to offer some products through comparison websites.”

Comparethemarket.com said that suppliers sometimes stipulate which tariffs they wish to sell on price comparison websites. It said tariffs that are not in the main search engine could belong to new suppliers who are just soft launching their services and don’t want too much volume yet.

“Once all parties are confident that the provider in question is fully prepared to take on new customers the tariffs go into the main search engine. This is important due diligence to protect consumers, ensuring that providers have been appropriately tested and that products are fit for purpose,” Comparethemarket.com added.

Confused.com also said that some suppliers choose to exclude certain tariffs from comparison site applicants. ”We give customers the option to exclude these from the results. If people do then decide to switch supplier, they can choose to go direct to the supplier, or can switch using our website, where possible,” it said.

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