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Can you REALLY save more using automatic energy switching firms?

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Auto-switching services have exploded on to the energy market over recent years. There are at least six firms with wacky names and logos promising to use their high-tech algorithms to automatically find users a better deal and handle the transfer for them.

The new services undoubtedly save customers the time and hassle of searching the energy market every time their deal comes to an end. 

But the savings and choice of deals can vary depending which service is used and which suppliers are available through the switching service.

Auto-switching: Do customers end up saving money and are they better than conventional comparison websites?

Auto-switching: Do customers end up saving money and are they better than conventional comparison websites?

Auto-switching: Do customers end up saving money and are they better than conventional comparison websites?

The businesses work in a similar way to comparison websites. So to get started, a user will need to enter details of their address, existing energy provider and energy usage. 

The switching company will then calculate how much can potentially be saved each year. It will then switch supplier whenever it results in a saving.

All the services filter out suppliers who don’t meet certain sustainability requirements or have histories of poor customer service. They may also set preferences – for example, restricting choice to large suppliers only, fixed rates or green tariffs.

Some services are free, but restrict switches to a panel of commission-paying firms. Others scour the whole market but charge a fee.

Customers get the same rights as if they had made the switch themselves, so they can change their mind in the first 14 days. But, crucially, do they end up saving money and are they better than conventional comparison websites?

Last week, I put the auto-switching services to the test by comparing how much an average household in the Hertfordshire postcode of WD6 would potentially save if switching from British Gas’s standard dual fuel tariff. I assumed I was an average energy user – using 12,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of gas and 3,100 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

Switchd 

When the results come back, Switchd boasts the highest average savings among all the switching services at £408 a year. It offers a ‘free’ service where it will only recommend suppliers for electricity or dual fuel deals that pay it a commission to be part of its service. Alternatively, there is a whole of market service starting at £1.99 per month and going up to £4.99 if you want the support of a ‘dedicated’ agent.

Switchd boasts the highest average savings among all the switching services

Switchd boasts the highest average savings among all the switching services

Switchd boasts the highest average savings among all the switching services

Customers are switched on average every six to nine months when a minimum saving of £50 can be made, but users can alter this figure if they want to switch to make smaller savings.

Switchd will initially recommend one provider from its panel that excludes firms with poor customer service or switching issues.

Sadly, there was not a sniff of the £408 savings it originally boasted about but it told me I could save £337 by moving to Utility Point. Annoying to be originally misled but still a very good sum.

Potential saving: £337

Migrate 

It says users can save on average £316 a year by using its switching service. It will typically make a switch once a year if there are no exit fees to be paid. The free service offers a choice of three suppliers from a search of the whole market when you first sign up. It said I could save £291 annually by switching to Utility Point.

Potential saving: £291

Switchcraft service is free

Switchcraft service is free

Switchcraft service is free

Switchcraft 

Using a friendly light switch as a logo, Switchcraft promises customers average annual savings of £268. It will switch customers once a year if it can save £50 after exit fees. The service is free and first-time users are given a choice of providers and the savings on each.

I was told I could save £285 a year by switching to British Gas’s Energy and Boiler Cover Green November 2020 deal.

Potential saving: £285

WeFlip 

Like rival Look After My Bills, it is owned by comparison website GoCompare but operates differently to its rival.

With an ad campaign featuring a chameleon and offering average savings of £280, WeFlip checks if a minimum £50 saving on top of any exit fees can be made throughout the year and will recommend one supplier to new users. It recommended moving me to the British Gas Energy and Boiler Cover Green November 2020 deal for a £284 annual saving.

Potential saving: £284

Look After My Bills 

This company received record backing from Dragons' Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell

This company received record backing from Dragons' Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell

This company received record backing from Dragons’ Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell

This company received record backing from Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den last year. It has since been sold to comparison website GoCompare in a deal worth up to £12.5million.

The free service only switches users if there are no exit fees involved. It said I could save £227 a year by switching to Green Together.

It provides updates by text or post if someone cannot get online regularly.

Potential saving: £227

Flipper 

It promises users average annual savings of £385 but you need to pay a membership fee of £30 a year – charged after you have made your first switch. Its service covers the whole of the energy market.

Flipper scans the market regularly, meaning you could be switched up to four times a year.

Flipper scans the market regularly, meaning you could be switched up to four times a year

Flipper scans the market regularly, meaning you could be switched up to four times a year

Flipper scans the market regularly, meaning you could be switched up to four times a year

Sadly, my promised saving was less than £385. Flipper said that it could get a deal that would be £225 cheaper over a year.

However it was not prepared to reveal who the provider was until I had signed up and entered my payment details.

It also said it would need to see a copy of a current utility bill to verify actual usage, which could alter the overall amount saved.

Once signed up it flips customers each time a saving of at least £50 a year can be made – after exit fees.

Potential saving: £225

… And using a comparison website

Using a comparison website may take more time and effort, but it is free and a user gets a wide choice of options.

Such websites highlight deals where they get a commission if they help a user to switch, but uSwitch and MoneySuperMarket also display tariffs that are not available through them.

A search on uSwitch showed I could save up to £336 a year by arranging my own switch to Utility Point. In other words, saving more in money than that available from five of the six auto-switchers.

Another option was to use the comparison service via cashback website Quidco.

It said we could save up to £290 by switching while receiving £40 of cashback.

Potential saving: £336

How much could you save on bills? 

This is Money’s carefully chosen energy switching partner EnergyHelpline gives an unbiased look at all the energy deals in your postcode, so you can work out which is best for you.

Use our energy switching calculator to see how much you could save on your bills. If you use our energy switching service, This is Money gets a small payment that helps keep our site free to read. 

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Mining giant tables £405m bid for Sirius Minerals: Investors urged to back Anglo American takeover

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Sirius Minerals has warned investors it is likely to collapse within weeks unless they approve a £405m rescue deal from a mining giant.

Anglo American formally offered to buy the Yorkshire potash miner for 5.5p per share yesterday.

The bid came after the two companies revealed earlier this month they were in advanced talks about a takeover. The move surprised the City and infuriated the 85,000 private shareholders who spent years backing the project with their own cash but now feel betrayed.

Warning: Sirius has failed to finish building its mine under the North York Moors national park

Warning: Sirius has failed to finish building its mine under the North York Moors national park

Warning: Sirius has failed to finish building its mine under the North York Moors national park

An investor who bought £10,000 of shares when they peaked above 40p each in 2016 would be left with a holding worth just £1,250 from the Anglo American deal.

But Sirius chairman Russell Scrimshaw said that while the price will be a ‘shock’ to many, Anglo’s lifeline is the only ‘feasible option’ to save the sprawling fertiliser mine and thousands of jobs it promised to bring to the local area.

According to Scrimshaw, Sirius received another approach shortly after Anglo’s interest was first revealed. But the board decided Anglo’s offer, which will see it largely sticking to Sirius’s construction timetable.

Scrimshaw warned: ‘If the acquisition is not approved by shareholders and does not complete, there is a high probability that the business could be placed into administration or liquidation within weeks.’

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said: ‘Sirius’s longer-term shareholders might be reluctant to take such a big hit, however, there aren’t any other offers on the table.’

One shareholder told the Mail: ‘I am a long-term holder who has lost more than £100,000,’ adding that ‘the private shareholder has served his purpose and has now been royally shafted’.

Mark Cutifani, Anglo’s chief executive, said he was ‘sensitive’ to the fact that many Sirius investors will have lost money in the project, but did not comment on why they were not being offered stock in Anglo’s offer.

He added that Sirius chief executive Chris Fraser and several other executives would stay in their roles for at least a year.

They will continue to receive their current remuneration package and also participate in bonus schemes. In 2018, Fraser, a former investment banker, received a basic salary of £475,000 and a bonus of the same amount. Figures for 2019 are not available.

Sirius has been struggling to stay afloat since it failed to raise £400m of funding in September. The bond was needed to unlock a further £2 billion of funding which it needed to finish building the mine under the North York Moors national park.

Building the mine, which would access the largest known reserve of a fertiliser called polyhalite, involves sinking two one-mile shafts and digging a 23-mile tunnel that will transport the minerals to a plant on Teesside. When the fundraising fell apart, Sirius stripped out costs, went to a bare-bones construction schedule to keep costs low and began looking for a strategic partner.

Sirius reckoned it needed £2.5 billion in total to build the mine, which it insists would be low-cost to run and could produce polyhalite for 50 years. Anglo does not expect there to be any ‘major changes’ in employee numbers. Sirius has estimated it will create 4,000 jobs in one of the most deprived areas of the country.

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Wetherspoon cutting price of ten drinks from January 31 to mark Britain’s exit from European Union

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Wetherspoon is cutting the price of ten drinks from January 31 to mark Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The pub group’s so-called ‘Let’s stay friends’ move will offer customers around 60p off drinks which originate in European countries including Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Holland and Ireland, as well as from across the UK.

Drinking to success: The promotion will run until February 29 in all of the company's 870 pubs

Drinking to success: The promotion will run until February 29 in all of the company's 870 pubs

Drinking to success: The promotion will run until February 29 in all of the company’s 870 pubs

The promotion will run until February 29 in all of the company’s 870 pubs.

The drinks include Estrella Galicia from Spain, Beck’s from Germany, Peroni from Italy, Tyskie from Poland and Grey Goose Vodka from France.

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: ‘Many of our customers are keen to celebrate Brexit. At the same time, we want to remain friends with our European neighbours.’

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One of Britain’s oldest department store chains crashes into administration

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One of Britain’s oldest department store chains has crashed into administration after a bleak Christmas – putting more than 1,000 jobs at risk.

Beales, which dates back to 1881, has become the latest victim of the crisis gripping the High Street.

The failure of the 139-year-old chain comes after major retailers such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis struggled during the festive period at the end of a particularly bleak year for the sector.

Hit hard: Beales, which dates back to 1881, has become the latest victim of the crisis gripping the High Street

Hit hard: Beales, which dates back to 1881, has become the latest victim of the crisis gripping the High Street

Hit hard: Beales, which dates back to 1881, has become the latest victim of the crisis gripping the High Street

Beales has been weighed down by crippling rent payments and soaring business rates, while tough competition from online rivals and falling numbers of shoppers on the High Street have also taken a toll.

In response, bosses were seeking to overhaul product ranges and shops while seeking potential buyers or investors to secure the firm’s balance sheet.

But administrators at KPMG yesterday said poor trading over Christmas had hammered the final nail into the coffin.

For now, the chain’s 23 shops will continue to trade as normal and it will also honour gift vouchers.

Its website, however, has been taken down and about 1,050 jobs are under threat as administrators look for a buyer.

KPMG’s Will Wright said: ‘With the impact of high rents and rates exacerbated by disappointing trading over the Christmas period, and extensive discussions around additional investment proving unsuccessful, there were no other available options but to place the company into administration. Over the coming weeks, we will endeavour to continue to operate all stores as a going concern while we assess options for the business.’

Bournemouth-based Beales traces its history back to the late 19th century when founder John Beale opened his Fancy Fair and Oriental House. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1995, but was returned to private ownership through a management buyout in 2018.

Tony Brown, the company’s boss, has previously blamed the retailer’s woes on difficult trading conditions and criticised the ‘lunacy’ of high business rates, which are collected by councils.

He accused local authorities of failing to help struggling retailers, saying they ‘really don’t care’ about High Street stores. Speaking to the BBC last week, he said: ‘We’ve only managed to get one council to help us out on a temporary basis.

‘At the moment, in my view, councils really don’t care, because they get their business rates whether we’re there or not, because the landlord pays if the store closes.’

Department stores in particular have suffered hardest from the High Street downturn. House Of Fraser fell into administration in 2018, before it was snapped up by Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, formerly Sports Direct.

Debenhams also fell into administration and was rescued by its lenders, while John Lewis warned earlier this month that it may scrap its annual bonus for employees after weak Christmas sales.

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