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Big six energy companies guide

Big six energy companies guide

You'll often hear the term "big six" being thrown around in the news. Traditionally, this has referred to the six biggest energy providers in the UK. But who are they, why are they important, and is "big six" still a valid term? Find the answers to these questions and plenty more in Uswitch’s guide to the big six.

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Who are the big six energy providers?

The ‘big six’ is a term often used to describe the six largest UK energy companies operating. Traditionally, they are made up of British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower, ScottishPower and SSE.

These companies currently supply seven out of 10 British households with gas and electricity. However, there are a huge number of smaller suppliers gaining a greater foothold in the UK, and they are not only having an influence on the number of customers the big six supply, but they are also redefining what the big six are.

In December 2019, SSE announced that it had reached an agreement with OVO for the latter company to acquire its customer portfolio. Whether OVO replaces SSE in the big six or the big six becomes a big five plus OVO remains to be seen.

Additionally, First Utility, one of the more prominent challenger energy brands, was acquired by Shell and renamed Shell Energy. With the weight of one of the world's most recognisable and powerful companies behind it, Shell Energy has emerged as a legitimate competitor to the current dominant suppliers.

That's without mentioning the rise in popularity of companies like Bulb and Octopus which, while not rising to the customer numbers of OVO, are steadily growing as customers take advantage of attractive introductory offers and reasonably-priced tariffs.

This means that, since the early 2000s, the energy market has undergone significant change in terms of which suppliers have dominated market share. The chart below demonstrates this (in terms of electricity suppliers) - look out for OVO taking over SSE's customer base towards the end of the timeline.

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Why do people criticise the big six energy firms and the UK energy market?

Because the big six has supplied the vast majority of UK households, questions have been raised about the competitiveness of the energy market.

Claims of price fixing usually intensify when all six energy suppliers raise their gas and electricity prices around the same time, though this has become less common with the introduction of the energy price cap at the beginning of 2019.

big six

What are the dangers of an energy market dominated by six suppliers?

The main issue with just six firms providing the vast majority of the UK with energy is the potential for this dominance to result in uncompetitive tariffs and high energy bills.

What's more, because of the way the energy companies are structured, they buy and trade the energy between each other.

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It's a good idea to compare energy regularly to see what the latest prices mean for you, even though there are fewer deals available. Enter your postcode to get started.

The UK’s economy is built on the principal of markets being competitive. That means that the more companies exist in a certain sector, the more competition there will be. This competition then forces firms to offer customers the best possible deals.

As we've seen, the rise in smaller suppliers has created more competition in the market, but the easiest way to make sure the UK’s energy market is competitive is still to encourage everyone to frequently switch energy supplier.

So why don’t more people switch energy providers?

There are many misconceptions about how hard it is to switch energy suppliers. For example, some people still believe their cables and pipes have to be replaced or that, if they rent, they're not allowed to change.

The truth is that many consumers aren’t aware just how easy it is to switch to a better gas and electricity deal. When you switch you still stay on the same energy, through the same pipes and with the same strength. The only difference is the how the energy is charged.

Should I switch to a small supplier?

Small or independent energy suppliers represent a valid alternative to the big six.

Small suppliers often offer deals on par with, or in some cases cheaper than, the big six. However, many people remain unsure about making the switch, even if they could end up making a saving.

The main reason customers are afraid to move to a small supplier is that they fear that independent gas and electricity providers are more likely to go out of business. This isn't an unfounded fear, as there is very little to prevent anyone setting up an energy supply business, and many smaller companies have gone out of business over the past few years. Other concerns include customer service not matching up to that of the big six suppliers, or simply a lack of willingness to trust a brand they have never heard of.

How do I switch energy supplier?

Switching energy supplier is easy. Simply put your postcode in the green box and answer the questions to find out how much you can save.

For the most accurate results it’s best to arm yourself with a recent energy bill, but we can also estimate your bills based on your location and how many people you live with.

The process only takes a few minutes and is easy and painless. So what are you waiting for? Grab a recent energy bill, fill in our form and you could be on your way to saving hundreds of pounds, it really is that easy.

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