Back in the day, “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” was a nickname for any curmudgeonly soul who liked writing huffy letters to the newspapers from the heart of Middle England.
A new version of “Disgusted” was in the news recently, but with a couple of twists. First, the outrage was aimed at Tunbridge Wells (specifically at the town’s sitting Member of Parliament), rather than coming from that hotbed of outraged propriety. Second, the offended party wasn’t some crusty retired brigadier, but mild-mannered financial boffin, Martin Lewis, of MoneySavingExpert.com, who called the behaviour of Tunbridge’s MP, Greg Clark, “disgraceful.” What had Greg done to get Martin’s goat?
As well as being MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark is Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In his day job, Greg encourages energy customers to shop around for the best deal. But then it emerged that Greg has never switched suppliers himself, saying it’s too much “hassle.” The money saving expert was not impressed, tweeting:
“Disgraceful. That should probably disqualify him from being energy minister. He should’ve tried just so he has lived experience.”
OK, I’m all for politicians knowing the price of a pint of milk and stuff, and I agree with Martin that Greg Clark ought to try doing what he recommends, but this doesn’t quite trigger a “Disgraceful” reading on my outrage-o-meter. Greg’s not actually harming anybody by failing to get the best deal (not even his own family who are, I’d guess, a long way from going hungry on the mean streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells). Calm down, put the kettle on and make yourself a nice cup of tea with your own very reasonably-priced electricity, Martin. You know it makes sense.
Unlike Gerg Clark, most of us aren’t so comfortably off and busy running a government department that we can afford to overlook the little matter of how much our energy supplier is charging us. But Greg, too, has a point. Even the energy regulator, Ofgem, agrees with him that switching can be a hassle.
In fact, Ofgem agrees with him so much that it decided that it would be a great idea to make energy companies give Ofgem details of all customers who’ve been on their standard variable tariff for more than three years. Ofgem planned to build a database, open to rival suppliers, who could write to those non-switching customers with offers of cheaper deals. Great plan – what could possibly go wrong?
In two words, “data protection.” In December, the Information Commissioner described the switching database plans as an “intrusion on individuals’ privacy” and this May, Ofgem put its plans to roll out the database in April 2018, on indefinite hold, to buy more time to work on details like security, and protecting customers’ data privacy.
Fortunately for people who do want a hassle-free switch, but don’t want to wait until some unspecified date after April 2018, there’s already a low-hassle way to find a better deal. Just go to the utilities page on our site to see one way you could save money on your utility bill with just a few clicks. Pick a bundle which could include not just energy utilities, but your broadband, phone and mobile – the more you add, the more you could potentially save. Why not give it a try? Add switching to your lived experience and you might even help to get Martin Lewis’s blood pressure back down to normal…