Energy group First Utility wants to make it easier to switch suppliers

First Utility reckons it would save £1.5bn a year if people spending too much on their bills switched to cheaper tariffs

As energy prices look set for further inflation-busting increases, a new campaign is launched on Monday to make it easier for customers to change their energy supplier.

It takes about five weeks to move accounts, but the Fix the Switch initiative from independent provider First Utility calls on the industry, along with regulator Ofgem and the government, to cut that to a day. The company claims it would save £1.5bn a year if people spending too much on their bills switched to cheaper tariffs.

Research carried out by the company showed that 35% of those surveyed would change suppliers if the process was quicker and easier. First Utility said: "Of the five week existing switching time, only several hours are spent actioning a switch, the rest of the time is spent waiting for antiquated industry processes to run their course. Switching supply is relatively simple, no one needs to visit the house, the gas or electricity doesn't change, and there is no risk to supply."It has set up on online petition to force a debate on the issue in parliament. Chief executive Ian McCaig: ""The energy industry needs to follow the example set by the telecoms and banking sectors. It takes just four hours to switch mobile phone providers and you can change banks in a week. We strongly believe switching can be done in one day if other energy suppliers share our ambition and intent."

Regulator Ofgem said it also wanted to speed up the process, and said this had already been cut to three weeks after any cooling off period. Ofgem chief executive Andrew Wright said: "Improvements have already been made...but ultimately the roll out of smart meters to homes and businesses will pave the way for a quicker switching process to be developed."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "We've long called for faster, smoother switching. The government must also do more to make it easier for consumers to spot the cheapest deal. Now is the time for bigger, better reforms if we are to help consumers struggling with spiralling energy prices and squeezed household incomes."

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at comparison service uSwitch.com, said: "It is crucial that the industry reduces the length of time it takes to move supplier. However, it is important that no corners are cut that could harm consumers and that switching energy suppliers is as simple and streamlined as possible. It's important that consumers are still given a 'cooling off' period to give them time to change their mind."

The initiative comes as British Gas and other big six power companies prepare to announce price rises of about 8%.

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Nick Fletcher

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