Every energy supplier I have tried (six in total) has routinely overcharged me, estimating my usage to be much higher than it actually was every year. Most folks prepay their energy bills by direct debit in the UK, and energy suppliers estimate your usage and set your monthly bill at a level to cover it. They only calculate what you actually used every three months. And they don’t refund the amount they overcharge, preferring to keep it for future bills. I have wasted hours of my life on hold or arguing with suppliers to claim my credit back and reduce my monthly payments, only to see them increased again the next month.
Because energy use soars in the winter when it’s cold, there is a legitimate argument for accruing credit over the summer, but even taking that into account, an Ofgem report revealed that in 2018, energy suppliers had taken £1.4 billion more than they needed. The number of suppliers peaked at 70 that same year, but many were already dipping into this cash. The regulators failed woefully to hold new suppliers to account, despite clear evidence of financial unsustainability (Avro was the most egregious example), and many went bust, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
Clear and Direct
When I first logged on to Octopus’ website, I could see my energy use and bills at a glance or submit a meter reading. It may seem like a low bar, but all my previous suppliers had clunky systems offering limited data, not to mention frequent downtime and data breaches. With Octopus, you can submit a meter reading as often as you like, which means accurate billing based on your actual usage.
Submit a meter reading every month and you earn a spin of the wheel of fortune, where you can win prizes from £1 up to £512. This gamification of meter readings is a clever way to encourage folks to submit them more often. Dibb-Simkin told me that it doesn’t just make billing more accurate, it also allows more efficient balancing of the power grid by providing insight into real-time usage.
A few months after joining Octopus, I got a smart meter. It was installed for free and came with a wireless display that shows my energy use for electricity and gas. I don’t have to submit meter readings anymore, as the info automatically uploads to Octopus, but the company still allows me a monthly wheel of fortune spin. Even its hold music is better. When lines are busy, if Octopus has your date of birth on file, it will play the No. 1 song from when you were 14 years old. Your musical tastes cemented back then, and hearing a tune you like helps chill you out.
I’m not the only happy customer. Octopus has scored consistently highly for customer service and won a coveted Which Recommendation five years in a row (it’s the only energy firm to get one this year).
Sense of Responsibility
Last winter, Octopus set up a £2.5 million Assistance Fund for customers struggling with high prices. It gave away 7,000 free electric blankets for the hardest hit, because it is much more affordable to heat a person than a whole home. The fund has been increased to £7 million this year.
The company also ran a Winter Workout challenge that estimated your gas usage over 12 weeks of winter and offered anyone who reduced their gas consumption the chance to win a cash prize. Aside from offering tips and a space for folks to share ideas, there were weekly and grand prizes, and everyone who was successful shared in a £1 million pot. It was a smart way to reduce gas usage, and it included an option to donate your winnings to the Assistance Fund at the end, with Octopus matching all donations.