Ofgem Consumer Survey 2020: Consumer Engagement with Energy

Ofgem has published its 6th annual tracking survey of Consumer Engagement with Energy, conducted between September and November 2020 by Ipsos.

The author(s)

  • Bridget Williams Public Affairs
  • Gemma Waring Public Affairs
  • Sophie Thompson Public Affairs
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Representative of domestic energy customers in Great Britain, the survey measures consumer switching and comparison behaviours; consumer confidence to source energy deals; prompts for engagement in the energy market; perceptions of and any barriers to switching; and channels used to switch or compare energy tariffs. In 2020, the survey was also updated to explore attitudes towards decarbonisation, innovations in the energy market such as time of use tariffs and willingness to take up smart technologies that may result in more efficient use of the energy network. The first report to be released by Ofgem focuses on consumer engagement with the energy market. A further report focuses on consumer views of decarbonisation, including potential uptake of electric vehicles.

Key findings from this year’s survey are:

  • Engagement continues to rise: Data from this year’s survey and other Ofgem data suggests that the trend towards increasing consumer engagement continues. 65% of consumers said they had engaged in the energy market in the past 12 months, either by comparing energy deals or switching tariff and / or supplier. Engaged consumers are largely mid-aged, ABC1 and owner occupiers. Vulnerable consumers* remain less likely than average to have engaged in the energy market.
  • Barriers to engagement are similar to previous years: Satisfaction with existing supplier continues to be the main reason for not engaging with the energy market. For vulnerable consumers, further barriers to engagement may be lower levels of confidence to engage and trust in the market, perceived hassle, and concerns over cost increases.
  • Unengaged consumers perceive more barriers to switching: While negative perceptions of the switching process remain low, more consumers are aware of the risks associated with switching. When prompted on specific barriers to switching, more disengaged consumers believed switching to be a hassle than engaged consumers. They were also more likely to name specific risks from switching supplier e.g. not making savings on bills.
  • Consumers’ understanding of decarbonisation and energy’s climate impact is limited: ‘Decarbonisation’ is not a well understood term; while 56% of consumers had heard of it, only 8% claimed a good understanding of the term. Consumers also displayed low levels of understanding of the contribution of home heating to climate change, which may be a barrier to uptake of lower carbon home heating. Moreover, over half (56%) of consumers feel that they are already doing enough to combat climate change. Barriers to taking decarbonisation actions (e.g. installing heat pumps) included cost, perceived hassle, lack of understanding about energy savings, lack of trust in the market and lack of confidence in new technologies. However, intentions to take decarbonisation action were stronger among younger people, ABC1s and higher income households, as well as engaged consumers.
  • Electric vehicles drive ahead: A quarter of consumers plan to buy an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle in the next 5 years, particularly younger consumers, ABC1s, higher income households and engaged consumers. Electric vehicle owners are also more open to changing how they use energy: they are three times more likely to say they are on a time of use (TOU) tariff and 3 in 5 would consider smart charging their vehicle at off-peak times of day. Yet, over a third (38%) of consumers are unlikely to get an electric vehicle in the next 5 years, with barriers including cost, short battery life and/or range, and worries about access to charging when away from home.
  • Smart meter ownership continues to grow: Continuing the upward trend in smart meter installations, 39% of consumers claimed to have a smart meter and over half (59%) of those who do not have one would get one installed.
  • Consumers would consider switching to a time of use tariff: Only 12% of consumers are currently on a time of use tariff, while 83% of those not on one claim they have never been offered one. However, a quarter (25%) of consumers not on a time of use tariff would be willing to switch to one.
  • Possibilities for load-shifting have changed: With a significant shift to home working during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are indications that fewer consumers are using relevant appliances at peak times (e.g. washing machines). More consumers now feel it would be easy for them to load-shift, with over three-quarters feeling it would be easy to start using their appliances at off-peak times instead. However, there is still work to be done to convince consumers of the benefits of smart controls for appliances, with lack of trust in external companies and data sharing concerns the key barriers to adoption.

* Vulnerable consumers may be in at least one of the following groups: those in financial difficulty (i.e. who have fallen behind on household bills), carers, those in arrears on energy bills, Warm Home Discount Recipients, disabled consumers, those using pre-payment meters and consumers who have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Technical note

  • Data for this report was collected through Ipsos i-Say Online Panel surveys, one main survey and two additional boost surveys in Wales and Scotland run between 14th September and 6th November 2020. The data is weighted to be representative of the profile of the population.
  • The sample for the main survey was 4608 gas and/or electricity consumers who were solely or jointly responsible for paying household energy bills in Great Britain aged 16 and over
  • In 2020, the survey mode changed from face-to-face to online. To understand the impact of the methodological change, a Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) parallel run was also conducted between 9th and 18th October 2020. The sample for the parallel run was 1635 energy bill payers or their partners aged 16 and above in Great Britain. The data is weighted to be representative of the profile of the population.
  • Because of the change in survey mode in 2020, only limited comparisons are made with data from previous years.

The author(s)

  • Bridget Williams Public Affairs
  • Gemma Waring Public Affairs
  • Sophie Thompson Public Affairs

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