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Comparison Website consumer champion claims described as “laughable”

They cannot claim they weren’t warned; after all it had been coming for some time.

But now the unapologetically opaque dealings of the Big Five price comparison websites having been in the dock, metaphorically and literally since last Autumn, when revelations of endemic hiding of deals were first made public, are facing real public and commercial scrutiny for the first time.

With their claims of being “consumer champions” described as “laughable” and their behaviour as that of “backstreet market traders” the shiny adverts, glib words and novelty characters are wearing thin.

Indeed the price comparison websites, following their appearance at the energy and climate change select committee are facing demands for not just commercial and operational change but also to pay commensurate compensation for customers ‘misled’ into taking sub-optimal deals.

It isn’t only the websites that are under fire, however, as for some time now Ofgem, the much maligned energy regulator, have themselves ‘hidden’ behind the weak façade of the customer confidence code for such websites. A code which failed to mandate its application and which only two of the Big Five price comparison websites are even signed up to.

Damaging trust

In their damning report, the select committee revealed:

  • uSwitch, MoneySupermarket, Confused, Compare the Market and Go Compare had all hidden the best deals in some way
  • uSwitch, the largest energy switching site, owned by tax payer funded LDC, regularly hid three of the five cheapest deals.
  • That Ofgem’s “hands-off” approach to the regulation of price comparison sites had consistently contributed to the issues
  • That “misleading” comparison sites are proving anything but consumer champions with a purely commission-led focus
  • That the behaviour of price comparison sites are “damaging trust” in the switching process

As a result, the select committee’s recommendations were:

  • That customers who have been “duped” should receive compensation.
  • That Ofgem’s voluntary code of practice should be changed into a new licence-based system for sites, or a licence requirement on suppliers to use only accredited sites, such as is currently in development for the business energy market.
  • That the websites must clearly display all available deals on the market
  • And crucially that the websites start to be “clearer in the language their sales staff use over the phone”

Backstreet market traders

Energy and Climate Change Select Committee Chairman Tim Yeo pulled no punches in his description of the behaviour of the Big Five:

“Some energy price comparison sites have been behaving more like backstreet market traders than the trustworthy consumer champions they make out to be in TV adverts.

“Some comparison sites have used misleading language to dupe consumers into opting for default options that only display commission earning deals. And others have previously gone so far as to conceal deals that do not earn them commission behind multiple drop-down web options.

“If the government wants more people to switch energy supplier then it has to ensure that energy price comparison services are transparent and trusted.”

On the subject of appropriate compensation Yeo admitted the process wouldn’t be straightforward but underlined that it was for the price comparison websites themselves to take the initiative on the issue.

“[The websites should] be pro-active, find out who they have mis-sold to and compensate those people without delay or argument.

“We are not pretending it’s an easy process but we think it is a very important principle”

In response Ofgem and the websites trotted out the same old, tired excuses:

Ofgem said:

“Following [our[ referral, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is now considering the role of price comparison sites as part of its wider review of the energy market. We will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations alongside the CMA’s findings.”

Whilst Chief Finance and Operating Officer of Go-Compare, Phil Morgan, continued to maintain that price comparison websites were a “force for good” and that they “empower customers and help them save money” adding:

“We can’t tackle the issues facing the energy industry alone. The onus is on the industry as a whole to work together to address the problems that put people off shopping around in the first place.”

That any remorse for their direct involvement in reducing transparency and therefore trust was not in evidence simply underlines the problems that price comparison websites and the regulator have created in the market.

That many of these price comparison websites trade on criticism of (vehemently) alleged profiteering amongst energy suppliers and resort to doom laden hyperbole on rising prices, their questionable transparency is all the more concerning.


Will Hodson of collective switching group The Big Deal, summed up the feelings of many saying:

“The Select Committee report is a damning indictment of the Big Five switching sites. It’s laughable that these sites claim they are ‘consumer champions’ when they have been caught red-handed hiding the cheapest deals to line their own pockets.”

One would hope that “being caught red-handed” would lead to mea culpa and a cleaning up of the act. Like so much in the energy industry that appears a regrettably forlorn hope.


Business Juice was formerly part of uSwitch Limited and traded as uSwitch for Business Limited until April 2014. Business Juice operate 100% transparency in their dealings with customers including a unique key facts statement and operate a whole of market comparison service for their customers.