TPIs play a vital role in helping consumers navigate what is an increasingly complex and competitive market. Unlike energy suppliers and water retailers who operate under licence, TPIs are not subject to direct regulation. Consumers are afforded some protections under general consumer law, but this is skewed towards the domestic sector. In most cases, a business consumer would have to go through the courts to seek recourse or redress.
The UIA offers the only code that covers all sectors of the business community and whereas other codes may issue fines or sanctions against offending TPIs, the UIA is the only code that seeks to provide the consumer with redress for any losses incurred as a result of any act of omission or wrong-doing by a TPI who is signed to the UIA Code of Practice (CoP).
Business consumers who work with TPI’s signed to the UIA CoP, have the assurance of knowing that UIA members have legally committed to work in their best interests and to abide by the standards of conduct that support and reflect those applied to regulated energy and water providers.
Consumer Guidance for Business Energy Supply.
Whether you approach a TPI directly or they contact you, you should not feel under pressure to use their services. Ask how they are remunerated and what services they will provide as part of their agreement to you. Be wary of any TPI who advertises their services as ‘free’.
Remember that your supply agreement is a contract directly between you and the supplier. You are bound by the terms of the agreement, not the TPI.
Make sure you know who your supplier is and what the key terms of the agreement are. For example, are there penalties for early termination or changes in consumption? Are the prices fixed or can they change?
What is the notice period?
There is no ‘cooling off’ period in business energy, so do not commit to any agreement if you are not sure.
A verbal contract is legally binding, so do not give consent until you fully understand what is being offered.
Make sure that all the elements of a supplier’s bill are on the quotation and that you are aware of and have agreed to any others that may appear.
Never sign a Letter of Authority without first reading it thoroughly. Beware the all-encompassing clause which may read something like "(The Broker/Consultants name) may deal solely with the supplier in all matters relating to the purchase of gas and/or electricity………" This, in effect, could prohibit you from speaking to your supplier or any other third party, and allow the TPI to sign contracts on your behalf.
If your meters are read manually, take regular monthly readings, if anything goes wrong they are invaluable to back up any complaint.
Always ask the broker/consultant or telesales person you are talking to if they are signed to a Code of Practice and Independent Redress Scheme. The only one that covers TPIs in their business with all suppliers and all processes is the UIA Code of Practice
Protections applicable for Micro Business Consumers.
A Micro Business consumer is defined as a business which:
has less than 10 employees or full-time equivalent and a turnover or balance sheet total of less than €2 million per annum
uses less than 293,000 KWh of gas per annum
uses less than 100,000 KWh of electricity per annum
Anyone falling into this category has the right to use the Energy Ombudsman scheme and is covered under Supply Licence Conditions SLC7a and SLC7b which ensure that:
Before entering an energy contract, the supplier must explain the key terms and conditions to you. (This applies to contracts agreed over the phone or in person).
Within 10 days of signing a contract, you should receive written copies of the contract with full terms and conditions including renewal terms.
If your contract is fixed for a period of time, you can notify your supplier at any time during your contract that you do not wish to rollover the contract and you wish to terminate at the end of the contract. (But you will need to remember to make a new one before the existing contract expires)
The supplier must not significantly favour their own interests or give rise to a likelihood of detriment to you.
The supplier should behave and carry out any actions in a fair, honest, transparent, appropriate and professional manner.
The supplier should provide information (whether in writing or orally) to each Micro Business Consumer which:
is complete, accurate and not misleading (in terms of the information provided or omitted)
is communicated (and if provided in writing, drafted) in plain and intelligible language
relates to products or services which are appropriate to who it is directed and
is otherwise fair both in terms of contents and how it is presented (with more important information being given appropriate prominence)
When your micro business contract ends:
Around 60 days before the end of your contract your supplier must send you a letter outlining the key contract renewal terms, this will include information on the new prices you may pay – including what will happen if you take no action and what will happen if you do not want to renew your contract.
Once you have received your statement of renewal terms you have 30 days in which to contact your supplier and tell them you would like to negotiate a new contract or change to another energy supplier.
Once you have notified your supplier you would like to negotiate a new deal your supplier will then offer you new contracts, one of these contract must be valid for the duration of the 30 day period.
If you do not tell your supplier you want to renegotiate your contract or change supplier within this 30 day period your existing contract terms can only be rolled over for a further 12 months.
Even if you are called by a broker they must still adhere to the supplier's responsibilities for micro-business as above
Cold telephone calls & Verbal Contracts.
When you change address, or take on a new business you are particularly vulnerable to incessant and/or aggressive tactics from call centres selling energy.
The reality is that you will be on expensive rates because you will be on a deemed contract with your existing supplier which allows you to change your supplier at any time. Taking a few days to research and make a decision will not be as expensive as being frightened into a long term expensive contract.
If you are going to enter into telephone contracts (remembering that these are legally binding) some key facts to be confirmed up front and before entering into any agreement are:
Obtain the caller's name, company and contact details getting them to spell out unusual names and always repeat the telephone number they have given you back to them. Tell them you will call them back, which is a good way of validating the above details. It will also give you time to think
If they state that they are representing "All suppliers" ask specifically which supplier(s) they are representing. In addition, ask the details of the callers contact at that supplier. Note: it is almost unheard in today’s markets that any one company could represent all suppliers.
With regards to the contract ask the following:
How much does it cost per unit?
How long does the contract run? (beware of contracts with no end date)
How do I end/cancel the contract?
Can I have a copy of what has just been agreed?
The most important thing to remember is that you can record calls on most laptops and pc's and should familiarise yourself with how to if you intend to enter into a verbal contract. You will then have the entire conversation on record as proof of what was said
Price Comparison Websites.
Always be streetwise when looking at business price comparison websites, don't be lulled into a false sense of security by titles containing "advice" "help", "cheaper" "bargain" etc. These are still businesses who intend to make a profit.
Be wary of sites claiming that it costs you nothing. Suppliers do not have a fund from which they pay a switching site, commission is usually included in the price quoted and is factored by the supplier but paid by you.
Look to see how many suppliers a site deals with.
Note that Ofgem' s Confidence Code only applies to a site’s domestic services not to its business services.