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The Big Six alternatives – why opt for smaller energy suppliers

by Deborah Burley

Price rises, inquiries and accusations of cartel-like behaviour. It’s hardly surprising that more and more people are looking to smaller energy suppliers – but do they offer a genuine alternative?

The Big Six, otherwise known as ScottishPower, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), EDF, British Gas, npower and E.ON are the largest energy suppliers in UK.

However, in recent months they’ve each implemented a series of price rises, which has left many households in Britain struggling to pay their energy bills.

Swamping the market, the Big Six supply over 99% of the UK with energy. It may mean that customers are sometimes unaware of other energy companies out there, and are left feeling that there are no alternatives than to hold on tigichht to their existing supplier – price rise or not.

As well as prices increasing dramatically (the average customer’s bill is now 21% higher than this time last year), there have been other struggles for the Big Six’s customers.

The latest consumer survey for energy from uSwitch found that only 58% of people were satisfied with the customer service received from their supplier.

And the energy industry had another shake recently following news that 27% of households had received the wrong energy bill in the last two years. Shortly after this, it was declared the second worst industry for billing.

It was yet another knockback for energy companies, which are struggling to improve the consumer confidence.

Energy reform

Energy secretary Chris Huhne has recently pledged to improve the energy industry, by allowing a wider competition to develop amongst energy suppliers.

At the latest Lib Dem conference he said Ofgem would have more control over increasing renewable energy and simplifying tariffs billing systems.

He said that: “It is not fair that big energy companies can push their prices up for the vast majority of their consumers – who do not switch – while introducing cut-throat offers for new customers that stop small firms entering the market.

“That looks to me like predatory pricing. It must and will stop.”

It means that smaller energy suppliers will perhaps now have the chance to make an impact on the market, and his opinions may have got people thinking.

Smaller energy suppliers, why switch?

A series of negative stories surrounding the six dominant energy suppliers has given smaller companies a chance to compete and offer the pubic a viable alternative. It means that customers can look outside of the box and decide whether there are other options out there.

Ofgem recently put pressure on gas and electricity suppliers to prove how they calculate energy bills. But, First Utility, for example, is offering its customers free smart meters which automatically take a meter reading every half an hour for accurate bills. It’s their way of proving that their prices can be trusted.

But customers don’t just want a good price for their energy, they’re looking for the extra benefits from their energy suppliers too.

There has been a distinct increase in the sense of social responsibility about where we get our energy from, leaving us more likely to sign up to green suppliers who will relieve our energy guilt as well as our overheads.
Ecotricity, for instance, offers green energy along with lower prices, while Good Energy creates its electricity from renewable sources generated by wind, small-scale hydro and solar power generators around Britain.

EBICo, a not-for-profit company, only offers single-tier gas and electricity tariffs where each unit of energy used costs the same.

The promise of a fixed rate energy tariff  seems to be an attractive one for consumers feeling uneasy about an increased bill. OVO is an example of a smaller supplier offering fixed price plans and it is also offering  paperless bills and tariffs as well as online account management, which is popular among those looking to modernise the relationship they have with their energy supplier and keep all admin waste-free.

What next?                                                                  

At the moment, the ulitmate outcome of this new political attention on the the energy industry waits to be seen. How the energy market might change for the better is still unsure, although some energy suppliers have been making concessions to make bills easier to manage financially.

uSwitch recently supported plans from E.ON to offer customers a reduction on their yearly bill over a two year contract and, with the government’s clearly watchful eye on the gas and electricity suppliers, services may still improve for UK energy users.

For those that aren’t so sure though, and want a change from the biggest energy suppliers, here’s a few of the smaller energy companies worth considering, and their annual price rate:


Plan Name

Payment Method


First Utility

iSave Dual Fuel V8

Monthly Direct Debit



Smart as Standard V2

Monthly Direct Debit



New Energy Fixed*

Monthly Direct Debit


OVO Energy

New Energy Fixed

Monthly Direct Debit


Spark Energy


Monthly Direct Debit


OVO Energy

Green Energy Fixed

Monthly Direct Debit


The Co-Operative Energy


Monthly Direct Debit




Monthly Direct Debit


Telecom Plus

Dual Fuel

Monthly Direct Debit


Good Energy

Good Energy & Gas +

Monthly Direct Debit




Monthly Direct Debit


Telecom Plus

Dual Fuel

Pay on Receipt of Bill


Spark Energy

Standard Plus

Pay on Receipt of Bill


  • michael j c wilson

    Useful stuff. Having switched from Atlantic/S&Southern this year to Eon, and after putting in monthly gas/electricity meter readings we were £157 in credit. I then got notification that our standing order would increase by, wait for it – 50 percent!
    I hit the roof – wrote back saying this was outrageous, and sent a copy to my MP. A week on and still no response – but even the PM is now talking about it all.
    I appreciate the infrastructure requires Lord knows how many billions spending on it, and that is has to go greener, but this is crazy.

  • Anonymous

    I changed from B Gas to Ovo about 18 months ago and have been more than happy with the service. The initial direct debit was set (with my agreement) at the same level as BG to see how things went. After year one we were quite a bit in credit. The good thing about Ovo is they pay you interest on that credit. I got the standard annual increase letter but phoned and asked for i) refund of the outstanding credit and ii) the new monthly DD to be revised down to what I thought was reasonable. Both requests were actioned very quickly.

    I have always found their staff to be polite and helpful when I call. I recommend them.

  • Clive Poole

    I started my first ever switch process yesterday from Npower to Ovo using Fingers crossed it all goes okay but after years of over charging, incorrect forecasting of usage and down right poor customer service from Npower anything has got to be better.
    Pleased to find Ovo was a local Company to me as well and uses around 15% or renewable energy so all good really.
    Wanted to go for solar panels as well but apparently my chimney is in the way! Happy Days!
    Looking forward to the Ovo switch now – can’t wait!