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Smaller energy companies

Why would you choose a small energy company? Find out whether the tariffs and service offered by a small company would work for you.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 16 June 2020  | 4 min read

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Key points

  • Small companies have increased competition in a market dominated by the ‘big six’ companies
  • The gas and electricity you receive is the same, no matter who supplies it
  • Ofgem regulates all energy suppliers and will step in if a company fails
  • Take price, service levels and other factors into account when choosing a supplier

Why choose a smaller supplier

Switching to a small energy company might save you money and you can use GoCompare to find the best deal for you. Here’s what you need to know about smaller energy suppliers.

Who are the ‘big six’ energy suppliers?

Six companies dominate the UK energy sector: British Gas, Npower, SSE, Scottish Power, E.ON and EDF Energy. These are the oldest private energy companies in the UK, dating back to when the energy sector was privatised in the 1990s.

The big six were once associated with relatively high levels of customer complaints and high profits. Since steps were taken to improve competition in the energy sector, many smaller energy companies have entered the market.

Complaints against the big six companies have fallen since this market shake-up. In the final three months of 2019, the six largest energy companies had 1,718 complaints per 100,000 customer accounts; medium-sized companies had 951 and small companies had 1,487.

Are there many smaller energy companies?

There are lots of smaller energy companies seeking to bring something to the market. The best-known ones include Shell Energy (previously called First Utility), Ovo Energy, Good Energy, Ebico, Ecotricity, Octopus Energy and Utility Warehouse. You should always check whether the tariffs and terms offered by a company suit your individual needs before switching.

Can I trust small energy companies?

In the last few years, some smaller energy companies have gone bust, prompting a move back to the big six companies. Moves from small companies to large ones were up 37% in 2019 compared to 2018.

This is a reversal of the recent trend when customers were switching from large suppliers to small ones. The big six have lost 1.3 million customers to smaller competitors since June 2018.

All energy companies are regulated by Ofgem, and you have the same protection if your supplier goes bust, whether it’s a large company or a small one. 

Why do suppliers energy prices differ so much?

Small energy companies often have lower running costs than big suppliers. Plus, the government wants to encourage new companies to enter the energy market in order to improve competition.

When companies have fewer than 250,000 customers, suppliers have looser licence restrictions. For example, they are not required to pay green levies. The savings mean they can offer lower tariffs to customers.

Advantages of smaller energy suppliers

Small energy suppliers often offer lower prices tariffs than the bigger companies in order to compete with them for customers.

Small companies can operate in niche markets, focusing on a particular type of customer - for example, some companies offer renewable energy to customers concerned about the environment.

For some customers, the experience of customer service may be better with a small company than a larger one.

Disadvantages of small energy suppliers

Small companies are subject to less scrutiny than their larger competitors, meaning companies might experience financial or operational problems without much warning.

A number of small energy companies have become insolvent, while larger companies are less vulnerable to market forces.

Energy suppliers beneath a certain size are not obliged to be part of the Warm Home Discount Scheme. If you qualify for the scheme, it’s important to check if an energy company takes part before switching.

What happens if my energy supplier goes bust?

Energy regulator Ofgem steps in if a supplier stops trading. Ofgem invites other companies to bid for the insolvent supplier’s customers base, choosing a new supplier based on a competitive process.

You will be moved from a contract with the insolvent energy supplier to a new supplier. The new supplier is not obliged to give you the same tariff as the old company, but they do need to honour any credit on your account.

If you wish to switch to a supplier you choose yourself, you are free to do so - but it is advisable to wait if you have credit on your account that you want to claim back.

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