Cutting bills: From left to right, Poverty Action Group chair Angus McCormack, TIG chair Donald Nicholson and TIG director Stewart Wilson at the launch of TIGSWITCH.
The first dedicated energy switching site for customers in the Western Isles has been launched by Tighean Innse Gall, who are working to eradicate fuel poverty and improve housing conditions.
TIGSWITCH.COM is the first switching site in the UK which takes into account the unique situation for gas customers in Stornoway, where they cannot switch supplier away from Scottish Gas due to the structure of the local network.
For these customers, the website displays an obvious message, warning them they will be unable to switch gas supplier, saving a lot of time and confusion down the line. When it comes to electricity though, the website will research all the available suppliers and tariffs and could save customers hundreds of pounds.
Although the switching site was designed with islanders in mind, it can also be used by energy customers anywhere in the UK.
There are a handful of approved switching sites in the country — uSwitch, Energylinx, moneysupermarket.com and comparethemarket.com among them — but TIGSWITCH.COM will be accurate for Western Isles residents.
Stewart Wilson, director of TIG, said: “There are only a limited number of switching platforms across the country and these platforms often struggle to cope with rural island locations and particularly with Stornoway’s gas network.
“The HS1 postcodes have a propane network that comes under a special derogation, a special licence condition section 18. The government subsidises that network to be the same as the mains natural gas.
“However, because of its special condition, gas customers can’t switch because there only is the one supplier. The platform that we have will flag that up to customers.
“Once you’re outside Stornoway HS1, the switching site will treat you like any other switching site.”
TIG’s switching site is run by Energylinx, one of the largest OFGEM confidence code accredited comparison sites in the UK, although it features the TIG branding and TIG will receive payments from Energylinx every time someone switches via the site.
The money will then be reinvested by TIG in the local community through their various projects.
Stewart said: “For every switch that is made via the site, TIG will receive a fee of £17 from the switching platform hosts. We will recirculate that money. We don’t expect it to be lots but we will recirculate that money because of our community-centred aims and not-for-profit status.
“Our whole ethos is about recirculating that money within the local economy, to give people here better and more accurate advice and give them choices.”
The switching process can be completed in its entirety on the website, by following the prompts, or by freephone 0800 888 6040 and pressing option five. Advice is available to all customers by phoning the freephone number and pressing option three.
TIG advisors are able to visit people at home to give advice on the benefits of switching, or about home energy efficiency, but they are not allowed to help people enact the switch itself.
The aim is to get as many customers as possible off the standard variable tariffs by identifying preferable fixed rates. Once customers have input some information, the site will give them projected figures and yearly savings. After hitting ‘proceed’, the switch is done automatically; there is no need to contact suppliers direct.
The amount of money which can be saved depends on individual circumstances. TIG director Stewart, for example, tried it out for himself and is projected to save £400 off his annual bill.
He is a “typical electric customer” living in a three bedroom, 1.5 storey detached house, with electric heating “so there are significant savings to be made,” he said.
The possibility of TIG setting up such a switching service had been identified previously in the Outer Hebrides Fuel Poverty Strategy action plan.
TIG launched the switching site during a recent open day in Stornoway Town Hall. Armed with a special pair of scissors made by Gordon Diesel, Stewart showed how TIGSWITCH.COM could literally cut energy bills. In this case, it was one belonging to Mr Fuel Poor from Poverty Glen, Skintsbost, Rural Scotland.
Stewart was joined at the launch by Angus McCormack, chair of the Western Isles Poverty Action Group, and Donald Nicholson, chair of TIG.
Encouraging people to use the new service, Angus spoke of the three factors that affected the cost of fuel to people. The first is how well a house is insulated and he praised TIG for doing “exceptionally well” with insulating houses while the second is a household’s income, which is “really difficult to influence” because that means creating jobs.
“However, one way in which we can reduce people’s bills immediately is by encouraging them to switch to a different provider,” Angus said.
“If you can encourage people to use this new service that TIG is offering and switch to a new provider, they could save significant sums of money.”
Donald Nicholson added: “As Angus said, a lot of our population won’t switch because they are far too loyal and yet a great proportion of them are in fuel poverty. We want them to switch and that’s why we’ve taken this initiative.”
The importance of TIG’s work was “massive”, he said. “In delivering on the council strategy we’re taking in up to £5million a year and we’re spending it directly in the homes of people that need it. We’re totally locally focused.”
The Warm Home Discount is one potential complication that customers should be aware of when switching. The bigger utilities have to provide this discount of £140 to eligible customers who apply. The smaller utilities do not have to provide it, although some may choose to. The advice to Warm Home Discount recipients is, therefore, to check.
Stewart said: “If you can gain £100 but lose your £140 then you’d be worse off so we have to be a bit conscious of that. But for people who have been on standard variable tariffs for a long time, these customers can usually save significant amounts of money.
“It can have an immediate effect on household income and that can be the difference between putting hot food on the table and putting cold food on the table.
“While we don’t see switching as the sole cure for high energy bills, coupled with other things such as ensuring their house is properly insulated it can make dramatic differences for people. It’s one tool in the box.”
Following their launch and open day in Stornoway, the TIG team went on the road to the southern isles, with events at Buth Bharraigh and Daliburgh Co-op, Sollas Co-op in North Uist, and Creagorry Co-op in Benbecula.