back to article State should run power firm spam database, says... competition watchdog

The UK’s competition regulator wants to see a new database of utility customers set up so they can be bombarded with “targeted marketing”. The Competition and Markets Authority wants the personal data of energy customers who fail to switch from the default tariff for three years – what the CMA calls “Disengaged Domestic …

  1. Ian Bush

    Oh for crying out loud

    'The UK’s competition regulator wants to see a new database of utility customers set up so they can be bombarded with “targeted marketing”.'

    In a time of stupid ideas this is one that truly stands out. I don't want this targeted marketing. I don't want to spend my spare time trawling through the different offers. I couldn't even give a flying one about so called "competition". I just want the right not to be ripped off. Is this so difficult?

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Oh for crying out loud

      less regulation would be a good start. We have oil heating. Very little regulation, transparent pricing and cut throat competition.

      I just make 3 or 4 phone calls for a quote of 500 litres, go with the cheapest.

      Why not just fix the opaque electricity prices by having national prices instead of historical regions?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh for crying out loud

        Why not just fix the opaque electricity prices by having national prices instead of historical regions?

        This is because the different regions have different costs to deliver electricity (and gas for that matter). If you want a flat national price then you're saying you want even more cross subsidies than currently exist. Some suppliers do offer flat national pricing, but that means they're choosing to take different profit margins in different regions.

        Surely if you can manage getting competitive quotes for heating oil, then using Uswitch (or any other price comparison site) to find one of the many cheap deals shouldn't be too opaque? Tell 'em where you live, how much you use, and they offer you the choice of hundreds of tariffs ranked in price order. Calling it opaque seems a bit grandiose when I look at the complexity of (eg) mobile phone offers.

    2. h4rm0ny

      Re: Oh for crying out loud

      There's only one form of competition regulation I'd like to see out of these people, and that's to regulate wind power so that it isn't massively subsidised by my purchase of electricity from other sources. If this body is so keen on competition, let's have some.

      (N.b. to carbon fanatics - I'm pro nuclear).

  2. PaulAb


    I just posted these exact concerns 5 minutes ago under the data protection Article, Is someone reading this in the great halls of power. Clearly Reg, you reach places others can't.

    You ministers and your History degrees! you don't learn.

  3. Scaffa

    Maybe these people would rather be left the fuck alone!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe these people would rather be left the fuck alone!

      Probably they would. But DECC and Ofgen are determined to see the energy market as a huge "market failure" requiring their intervention. As one of the most heavily regulated markets anywhere in the world, the UK energy market is a Frankenstein creation of successive public sector bureaucrats, and the problems they are trying to solve are generally down to their previous interference and incompetence. Nobody knows what's good for them quite as well as a civil servant paid to think and spend on their behalf.

      Lets say you want to set up an energy supply company, just buying wholesale and selling, not doing networks, not generating. Ofgem's standard electricity supply licence conditions are a 473 page document, and gas supply is nice and concise at 363 pages.

      And that's before the separate 229 pages of smart meter licence conditions, and before a bazillion pages of network codes and related documents.

      The CMA have spent a year navel-gazing (at your expense) and the best they can come up with is a recommendation to spam the British population to death. Have you noticed the irony, the government put charities on notice over their spamming and mail-harassment of potential donors, but in the case of energy customers the fuckwits see just such an outcome as a measure of their success?

  4. M7S

    On BBC R4 this morning

    there was a lady suggesting that Ofgem could run an independent price comparison website, as others had "trust issues". That seems like about the only sensible suggestion to have come from all this. Personally I'd want someone like Martin Lewis to be involved.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On BBC R4 this morning

      Price comparison sites suck. They just encourage ridiculously cheap introductory rates so that they'll be sorted first by price in descending order. 6-12 months later they jack the price up.

      1. teebie

        Re: On BBC R4 this morning

        Price comparison sites do suck, but the flaw is easily fixed - just have a tickbox for 'ignore introductory rates' (or 'show actual rate, piss of with your inertia marketing')

        Commercial sites tend not to do this for their own reasons (so they still get paid?), maybe an Ofgem site would be different.

      2. Graham Marsden

        Re: "ridiculously cheap introductory rates"

        So, once every year, you have to check your rate and see if it's still competitive?

        Damn, life is *SO* hard, isn't it...?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On BBC R4 this morning

      > Personally I'd want someone like Martin Lewis to be involved.

      Except Martin Lewis is the lead driver in the race to the bottom.

      Putting cheapness above everything else means we have ended up with a load of really crap investment-starved services. The exception is the energy market but that is only a matter of time and some blackmail by the suppliers claiming we have to have a load of blackouts in order to protect their profits.

      1. Ilmarinen

        Re: On BBC R4 this morning

        AC: would you go to work for no pay? Then why should any company work for no profit?

        It's not "cheapness above everything" - the convoluted hoops that the government imposes to subsidize expensive and unreliable "renewables", and to penalize cheap power generation ensures that. They have now so badly skewed the market that they have to subsidize parks of *diesel* backup generators under the STOR scheme to stop the lights going out. And all the subsidies are paid by our electricity bills and taxes.

        Our dear leaders need to unwind the current insane "policy". Atlas Shrugged was not meant to be a manual of how to run a railway (or power generation or a country).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: On BBC R4 this morning

          > why should any company work for no profit?

          Who said they should? Anyone with the tiniest bit of brain would understand the remark and not take it as a demand for energy companies to become non-profit charities. Lack of long-term investment in favour of greater profit (whether corporate or governmental), not helped by policies of successive governments, and please accept my deepest apologies for offending his holiness Mr Lewis.

          But Ayn Rand? Out of the people who have actually heard of the book, 99% only know the name because of that one paragraph that got spammed around a while back, normally described as "that bit about making laws so you can arrest people or something".

  5. Dan Wilkie

    I know my tariff isn't the cheapest. I also don't care. That's why I haven't switched it for the sake of the £50 a year saving that I could get elsewhere, until I leave for a year and then could save £50 a years by coming back.

    We could get rid of the competition and markets authority and use the money that's saved to subsidise everybodies energy bills instead perhaps?

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: That's why I haven't switched it for the sake of the £50 a year saving

      Yes, you have to cost your time in tracking utility prices and saving money.

      If it takes you ten hours a year to save £50 in utility bills, and you could earn the same amount in less time by doing extra paid work in your day job then do that instead. Or if you have enough money already, then spend that time doing something you enjoy.

      1. wikkity

        Re: doing extra paid work in your day job

        Assuming you are not on a minimum wage zero hour contract or just a don't have the flexibility to work more hours as you'd like.

    2. Chris King

      Having seen the grief some people have gone through switching tariffs, I'm staying put.

      The amount of time some of my friends have wasted on sorting out billing problems and Direct Debit cock-ups (usually overpayments) easily wipes out what they believe to have "saved".

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Do not want state-sanctioned spam

    If this flies then why not do the same for every utility or service?

    It's as if the mail preference and telephone preference services are working too well. Why would that be? People don't want or have time for this crap.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The same day that David Lammy is fined for telephone spam.

    Stop the world, please, I want to get off.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    “It’s not spam, it’s targeted marketing”

    You really are a twat, Mr Witcomb. They are both obnoxious practices. Why on earth do you think it's OK to inflict harrassment on people who are content to stay out of the market place?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: “It’s not spam, it’s targeted marketing”

      What do you mean, they're both obnoxious practices? They're not two different things.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where did I put my tin foil hat this morning?

    Yet another database of personal identifiable information for the government all wrapped in a feel good for the benefit of the citizens blanket.

    Lets recount, Health (, Pay (HMRC), Utilities (This), Children (Extensive education records), Extensive council held information, Vehicle Movement (ANPR), CCTV (Plus new biometrics without legislation), DVLA, Passport Office, and finally the coming IPB. I've probably missed some off that but they want to join all these together, all hail the new Stasi.

    The utility companies and comparison websites advertise all the time trying to get people to switch, if they haven't swapped already this letter will just go in the bin and be ignored like all the adverts.

  10. Alan Brown Silver badge


    Bulk - yes

    Unsolicited - yes

    Email - yes

    If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it gets roasted (blacklisted) like one.

  11. Mystic Megabyte

    Not much choice

    The Competition and Markets Authority might try to do something useful. Like why any ISP that I choose has to pay BT Wholesale. Any advertised price or offer for phone + internet package goes *up* as soon as I enter my postcode.

  12. rd232


    No. Not just because it's a horrendous idea, but for the precedent it sets.

    10 years hence, I'll be getting calls from India "Sir, for the last three weeks straight you've been buying Cathedral City cheddar, and we see you're in the cheese aisle right now. I can send a code for 25% off Anchor cheese to your phone right now.... No? OK, that's fine, but you're going on the Database of Recalcitrant Cheese Non-switchers. Which will lead to more phone calls. Just trying to help! Please listen to this message from the Competition Commission."

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a good thing we've got a free market so that the energy suppliers can all compete to offer lower prices isn't it?

    Wait, people can't be bothered to switch between them? But that can't be right, how is a free market supposed to work in this case? I know, spam will sort it.

  14. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Who on earth is running this asylum anyway ?

    I do price-check. Every so often, the differential between my tariff, and the cheapest makes it worth switching.

    However, since 2012, when I did this, and within 2 weeks, the tariff I moved to became the most expensive, I am far less likely to switch when the difference between top-slot and my present tariff is c. £50-60 per annum.

    It simply isn't worth my time.

  15. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    "Default" tariff

    Look at it from the company's point of view:

    If everyone was switched from the "default" tariff, then there would be no customers on the "default" tariff that you would have to open to other providers- so what is a "default" tariff? The easy answer for the utility company is to provide a "default" tariff', then after a while, and out of the goodness of your hearts, you automatically move the reliable 'default' tariff customers to a marginally better one for being good customers. The result is that the highest cost tariff is more or less preserved along with the income stream, the bad payers and the like are left on the 'default' tariff and get 'the chance' to move to another rubbish deal ... This means nobody really wins apart from the cold-calling bods who get a job, Mr Whitcomb for doing something (however useless) and the companies who look good for 'not having a big customer base on a default tariff'.

  16. Old Tom

    So that's...

    That would be Roger Witcomb, Finance Director of National Power plc 1996-2000 ?

  17. PNGuinn

    “It’s not spam, it’s targeted marketing”




    NURSE!!! my pills!

  18. 4ecks

    I'm on the tariff I want.

    I'm on PAYG with British Gas, not the cheapest by far, but what it does offer is the ability to top-up at home when I want, using a debit or credit card. No hunting round for a cash point and open shop or petrol station in order to get credit at 11:30 at night when it's cold and rainy, no it's all done from the comfort of my sofa, that's the service I pay a bit more for.

  19. earl grey Silver badge

    But I don't LIKE spam...


    And yes, you KNOW they won't get hacked and lose all the customer data.

    That's my coat...leaving now.

  20. Ironclad

    Take it further to make it really useful

    Instead of letting another power company spam me with offers, why don't we add a little more logic.

    The database sorts through all the offers from the various companies, finds the cheapest, then bills me directly. It does this every 6 months. I only deal with Ofgem, I get the best deal, I don't have to spend days poring over my energy bills to figure out how much I use then calculate the best rate. The energy companies have to be competitive to ensure Ofgem selects their deals. We all win.

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