We’ve had a good response from readers to our campaign to help cut your power bills this winter.

Hundreds of small businesses have fallen foul of the energy suppliers’ perfectly legal right to put their rates up after the initial term – usually 12 months – and roll customers over into another long-term contract. It’s a shame, because it only takes a few minutes to write a letter to your supplier telling them you don’t want to renew your existing agreement, and potentially save yourself thousands of pounds.

What it's all about
If you don’t give notice that you want to terminate your current electricity or gas contract more than 90 days before the end of its term, you’ll pay over the odds for your power for months to come.

So we’re encouraging all our readers to check their contract and send a letter NOW to their supplier saying they will not be renewing – and that means you’ll be free to shop around for the best deal when the time comes.

Over the next few weeks we will give advice on choosing the contract that’s best for you, and look at ways to further cut your bills by reducing the amount of power you use in the store.
The ‘assumptive renewal’ clause and tariff rise are right there in your contract, so no one’s taking you for a ride here – unless, of course, like Bina Patel of Bentry Post Office in Bristol, you’ve never seen a contract.

Bina rang C-Store to say her electricity bill had jumped from £500 a year to £950. She called her supplier, Npower, who said she should have expected the rise, as it was in her contract.

“I’ve never signed or even seen one,” she says, “so I asked to see it, and when it arrived it was dated from the day I requested the copy.” She now finds she’s tied in to the higher rate until next June, although after complaining to Npower she did get a £150 discount.

Coincidentally, we’ve received a letter from British Gas Business (BGB) in which it claims that retailers can’t be bothered to save money by switching suppliers. It’s actually insurance rather than power it’s talking about when it says: “Money is being thrown away because smaller retailers are too apathetic to look around for a better deal.”

We asked BGB if it advocated a similar switching of power contracts and it confirmed that it did indeed “encourage retailers to shop around.”

So full marks to BGB for promoting competition in the market. Minus points, though, for its handling of former customers of the now-defunct E4B. It rang Peter Watt of Ormsgill Post Office in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to say it had been appointed as his new supplier and the price would be going up. “I felt it was implying I had to accept the offer immediately or I’d end up on an even higher tariff,” Peter says.

BGB later confirmed to Convenience Store that Peter was, in fact, free to choose any other supplier. That wasn’t mentioned on the phone, though; so much for “encouraging retailers to shop around”.

More positively, we’ve heard from Amit Patel of Belvedere Food and Wine, who has been recommended a company called Utility Warehouse which offers low tariffs and doesn’t tie you in to a long contract. Check it out for yourself at www.utilitywarehouse.co.uk.