First Utility is increasing its presence on the home utility front these days, offering home broadband in addition to its well-established energy deals.
So how does First Utility stand up against its rivals? We've taken a look at everything from tariffs to customer service to help you decide.
Founded in 2008, First Utility has grown into the seventh-biggest energy supplier in the UK, which might not seem like much, but this means they’re the biggest supplier of energy after The Big Six. Where the bigger firms generate their own electricity, First Utility buys its energy from international markets, being a go-between via customers and companies.
First Utility was acquired by oil giant Shell in March 2018. First Utility has been a sponsor of the rugby Super League, and is also taking its business into Europe by expanding into Germany.
First Utility has faced some criticism over failing to protect vulnerable customers and has also had some customer service issues, which the company put down to rapid growth. As a result, more staff have been hired and First Utility has implemented new systems with the aim of avoiding a repeat of these past problems in the future. Since then the company has won several customer service awards and is clearly on the up.
First Utility has been praised for some of the deals it's offered to new customers in the past. When the company first hit the market, it regularly topped energy deal tables, thanks to its very competitive pricing.
First Utility has, since then, put its prices up, as many energy providers have. Its standard variable tariff generally doesn't represent amazing value when compared to some of its rival suppliers, but its fixed deals are very competitive. Customers with First Utility who get the best deals and prices are those who have a smart meter installed. The company offers some tariffs which include the provision of a smart meter. This ensures the most accurate readings, and means you are only ever charged for the energy you have actually used, rather than being billed according to estimates.
First Utility has a variety of tariffs to choose from, including longer fixed-term tariffs, to shorter ones for customers who don’t want to commit to a lengthy contract.
First Utility’s tariffs start with a 16-month fixed-term deal and go right up to the longer 37-month deal. The 16-month tariff is one of First Utility's cheapest, and includes a smart meter, which means accurate bills and no more manual meter readings.
First Utility also has exclusive deals for those who sign up online, which again come with price protection guarantees. This deal offers a price guarantee for 13 months.
The 37-month fixed rate tariff gives you a price guarantee for just over three years, and again, your bill will be worked on meter readings. As with any long-term, fixed deal, you will find that you are paying more per month than with a shorter-term deal, but this is balanced out against the fact that you will not be hit by any price rises within that period.
Like most companies, First Utility wants its customers to have a pleasant experience, and the company says that it “believes in a more positive, engaged and informed relationship between customer and supplier.” It promises to do this with “honesty and transparency”, as well as aiming to make the process of contacting them as easy and simple as possible.
First Utility won the 2017 Customer Service of the Year award for utilities, an annual award based on the experiences of mystery shoppers, which recognises good customer service via a range of categories. The company has not been without trouble though, and this award is a considerable improvement from 2014, where the provider was hit with a flurry of official complaints, mainly regarding unresolved complaints and long waiting times for callers.
Following the rise in complaints, First Utility vowed to invest £20 million into resolving these issues, mainly through increased recruitment. The award suggests that it has made a huge improvement, but it seems some customers have still found customer service lacking.
In its annual survey, Which? put First Utility 12th out of the 31 energy companies rated by its members. Overall, it has a 68% score and four out of five stars for its phone and online services, value for money, and billing accuracy. It is perhaps worth pointing out that First Utility performed better in the Which? survey compared to all The Big Six companies (npower, SSE, EDF, British Gas, E.On, and Scottish Power).
While First Utility isn't the most environmentally-friendly of the energy providers, it performs better than five of the rival Big Six companies (only SSE performing better), according to figures from Ethical Consumer.
The company has a mix of fuels to generate power, opting for natural gas (41.4%), renewables (29.4%), coal (13.5%), nuclear (11.3%), and other (4.4%).
The UK government scrapped the Green Deal in 2015, and so naturally, First Utility also had to scrap the scheme for those who had been receiving bonuses and looking for more of the same. The government previously offered cashbacks and incentives through the Green Deal, but at the time of writing have no plans to reintroduce it. However, First Utility will continue with the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme.
ECO is a government energy efficiency scheme in the UK which looks to reduce carbon emissions, as well as tackle fuel poverty. Through this, First Utility must promote measures which will improve the ability of vulnerable and low-income homes to heat their homes. This can be achieved through savings or repairing boilers.
All First Utility tariffs come with the option of having a free smart meter, with the exception of the cheapest tariff which requires you to have one installed. These new meters use mobile technology to send your readings to the company automatically. First Utility will organise for an engineer to visit your home and install the smart meter, but you’ll have to register your interest first.
If you choose to manage your account online, you will be offered a yearly discount and, in addition to that, you can save more money if you’re willing to pay via direct debit. All First Utility tariffs come with an app called My Energy to help you keep an eye on your energy usage.
First Utility is also part of the Warm Home Discount scheme to help lower income homes with energy bills over the winter months. You need to apply to see if you’re eligible for the extra support, which is provided in conjunction with the UK government. Applications open in September and show up in your bill as ‘Warm Home Discount’. find out more about the Warm Home Discount scheme here.
The first thing you need to do, when switching, is to compare the prices. Make sure there’s no introductory deals that are going to hurt you in the pocket further down the line. Once you’ve compared everything and weighed up your costs right across the board, and you’re happy that First Utility are the best fit for you, you’re good to go.
The process of switching itself should be relatively easy. You’ll need to let First Utility know your intentions, and then you’ll get a 14-day cooling off period, to make sure you’re happy with your new provider and the service they offer. First Utility will let you know when this period is over and inform you of how much your monthly payments will be. Be sure to inform them of your usage, so they can give you the most accurate bill they can.
They’ll send your opening reading to your previous supplier, who will then close your old account. The whole process can take up to 28 days, and be sure to arrange a direct debit date with First Utility which works best for you, so you can manage your funds accordingly.
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