10 May 2002

Electricity switch might be a shocker

FARMERS switching from one electricity supplier to another may be in for a shock unless they unearth all the facts in advance, warns the Farm Energy Centre.

Many companies cannot cope with complex farm accounts and some farmers have fallen victim to underhand tactics. Several members of United Pig Marketing – the UKs largest pig producers co-op – are still experiencing problems after changing suppliers two years ago.

Some members, including farmers weekly barometer grower Catherine Thompson, were persuaded to join Independent Energy in December 1999 on the promise of 20% cheaper rates. But although Mrs Thompson paid an agent about £100 a month to manage the deal, meters were not read and no bills appeared for almost a year. She consequently cancelled the payments in November 2000.

The agent and Independent Energy subsequently went bust, and npower, the UKs largest supplier of electricity, took over the business. But incorrect invoices have been sent out sporadically since March 2001, and two years since moving her account the problem is still not solved. "The helplines have been no help whatsoever, my letters have been ignored – I must have spent 15 hours trying to sort this out," says Mrs Thompson, who now owes about £20,000.

Though npower admits it has received many complaints, it claims that most are now in order. "We are very unhappy about these figures, and weve made big strides to change this over the past six months."

John Baron, managing director of UPM member, Scotlean Pigs, says: "The administration has been an absolute nightmare and generated a lot of frustration." But the principle of reducing energy costs still holds, he says, though details need to be thrashed out in advance.

Andrew Kneeshaw, director of the Farm Energy Centre, advises farmers not to sign anything at the door or agree contracts over the phone. While significant savings can be made, he says farmers should plan three months in advance to avoid costly over-runs on existing contracts.

Anyone thinking of changing suppliers, or experiencing similar problems, should contact the NFU energy service helpline on 0870-844 5700. &#42

Farmers must weigh up the facts before switching electricity suppliers.