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Agenda: Why customers should be able to switch energy supplier in 24 hours

On Monday, Ofgem approved proposals to speed up the energy switching process for consumers, with the time it takes to switch supplier to be cut by the end of the year to three days, after the statutory two-week cooling off period.

Ofgem also published new proposals to put next-day switching in place by the end of 2018 at the latest.

This will be made possible by replacement of the IT systems used in the switching process, which were originally developed in the 1990s.

I agree that 24-hour switching is very much achievable, and I think the timescale for this to happen doesn't have to be a long-term ambition.

Our industry should work hard to help to make this happen soon and we need all parts of our supply chain, particularly in the supply of gas, to be aligned to make this a reality.

The industry has to work harder to improve the speed and, crucially, the simplicity of switching. Fixing the former without the latter would be an own goal.

To do this will unlock savings, satisfaction and trust among customers. As things stand, I don't think customers fully understand the complexity, chronology and imperfections in the switching processes, and that's hardly surprising.

According to research by Ofgem, 21 million consumers are missing a trick when it comes to energy shopping.

Almost half of those surveyed by the regulator don't shop around, while more than half were confused by energy tariffs.

This results in 95 per cent of customers remaining with the Big Six energy companies rather than shopping around. It means that competition is hindered and that customers miss out.

The survey also found that 45 per cent don't feel they could save much money by switching and 24 per cent think it would be too much of a hassle. We have to change these perceptions. It shouldn't be so hard to change suppliers confidently. But it is and the energy supply industry must address this. For the customer, switching suppliers should be fast and seamless and standard practice. This requires change in industry processes.

At present, it takes too long for supplies to change between suppliers and there are too many things that can go wrong, be delayed or be inaccurate before a customer is fully settled and accurately billed by their new supplier.

I think this is because the customer has never been at the heart of the energy supply industry. It's obvious that has to change.

There's a mindset that needs to change in the industry and some technical things need to be altered to enable faster switching to happen.

Electricity is the simpler, and we can already switch in seven days if needed. Gas is more complex.

The timelines involved between the new supplier, existing supplier and the network depend on flows of information being sent within the restrictions of the industry which, if reduced, will enable faster switching.

However, we all need to work together to make this happen between the suppliers and the National Grid. Very often the issue is to do with meter readings, consumption or property data that must be provided to the incoming supplier from the outgoing supplier.

At present, it can take more than 60 days for the various flows to find their way through shared industry systems and this data can be wrong or late. It might not appear at all.

This is really tough on the small suppliers outside the so-called Big Six energy companies as we rely on receiving accurate and timely data to make it right first time and get off to a flying start with the newly-switched customer, allowing us to please them from day one.

This is the way it should be if we are to help fulfil the Westminster Government's greater competition ambitions.

If switching time was brought down to 24 hours this problem would be solved.

Let's make it happen.

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