Two weeks ago Convenience Store launched its Fight the Power campaign to encourage independent retailers to give their gas and electricity suppliers notice of termination of their current contract, so that they will be free to find the best rate on offer when their contract comes to an end.

What we want
Find out more about the Fight the Power campaign and add your own experiences of poor service by the energy suppliers – or any of the other subjects in our campaign agenda – in the forums at
www.thegrocer.co.uk/independents.
Look out for regular updates in Convenience Store in the coming weeks as we tackle three big issues: unscrupulous energy suppliers, the threat to remove in-store tobacco gantries, and our call to stamp out proxy purchasing.

Next issue we will turn our attention to the proxy purchasing problem and what you can do to help us prevent adults buying age-restricted products for children.
Since then we’ve heard from several retailers who have fallen foul of assumptive renewal, the suppliers’ tactic of automatically renewing a contract at a higher tariff unless they receive a written notice of cancellation more than 90 days prior to the end of the term.

Among them was our own columnist, Hastings retailer Dave Newman, who realised he’d missed the cancellation deadline for his Npower contract. “The original contract rates were 6.96p day and 4.45p night, and they’ve been increased to 13.46p day and 8.6p night,” he told C-Store.

Although the raw materials of energy supply have shot up in price, Dave doesn’t believe his supplier is simply passing these on without increasing its own margin, and realises that he would be much better off if he’d cancelled his contract and shopped around for a better deal. In fact, he believes his mistake may have cost him about £10,000.

“I’m extremely upset by the whole episode – I just can’t believe I got caught out,” he says. “Things like this could bring some retailers down in the current economic climate.”

Jag Ladwa of Multisaver in Peterborough rang to say he too had missed the 90-day cut off – because, he says, he didn’t see the relevant letter from Npower until well after the deadline. He calculates his electricity bill will go from £659 to £1,600 a quarter and he’s stuck in his contract for another year.

“I told them, okay, we’re both in business, you can have my money this year,” he says, “but they should know that I’ve written ‘Cancel Npower Contract’ in big black letters on my calendar and next year I’ll take my business away and my friends will too.”

Our campaign’s launch coincides with the winding up of Energywatch, the gas and electricity advice service which closes down this month after helping thousands of small businesses get a better deal from the power suppliers. Last year research by Energywatch revealed that although 78% of small business owners considered their bills to be overpriced, fewer than 10% changed suppliers each year.

Philip Davies, director of industry watchdog Ofgem, said at the time: “Being a passive customer means that as the years go by, you are much less likely to get a better deal than an active customer.”

So the C-Store message is: act now – and don’t get rolled over.

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