PRICE comparison sites have hit out at claims that they are misleading consumers over the cheapest deals by pocketing commissions when a consumer switches energy supplier.
Organisations such as uSwitch.com defended the industry after the head of small energy firm Co-operative Energy called for the creation of an independent switching site run by the state.
Switching sites are indeed paid for by commission, but operators claim the system is transparent and supported by the authorities.
Ramsay Dunning, group general manager of small energy supplier Co-Operative Energy, claimed that sites “funnel” people towards companies which have agreed to pay commission if a customer is sent their way.
“Switching sites increase prices to customers,” he said at a conference held by Cornwall Energy. “They are taking a lot of money out of the system now. They also have a tendency to mislead customers.
“Customers go to them thinking they are getting impartial advice and they are getting the whole market, every product in the market. They are not, they are getting those with commercial deals - unless they have discovered how to wind their way through the switching sites.”
USwitch.com, one of the largest sites in the marketplace, argued that switching sites are backed by regulator Ofgem.
“This is really depressing as price comparison services such as our own have been doing all we can to champion small suppliers and to help consumers in the face of higher energy prices,” said a spokesman.
“The fact is that Ofgem accredited comparison services such as our own are part of the solution and to suggest otherwise is an absolute nonsense.”
He said that the service is free for customers to use and pointed to the fact that over 90 per cent of people who use the service do not actually switch their accounts.
“We are upfront and open about the fact that this is paid for by fees we receive from suppliers when somebody switches - we receive no other funding.
“The commission we receive also pays for our call centre so that we can help those who aren’t online. The important thing is that we will always show somebody the cheapest deal for their needs regardless of whether we have a commercial agreement in place with that supplier or not.”
He added: “The reality is that comparison sites are a very cheap method for suppliers to acquire new customers in a fair and unbiased way. To suggest that we are helping to push up the cost of energy is simply ridiculous.”