Spark Energy Review
Another one of the new guys on the energy supplier block.
And, as such, with a mere 350,000 customers, it’s far smaller than the big six suppliers most of us are used to.
But does small mean beautiful?
Well, Spark Energy certainly are out there competing on price.
As a small independent supplier, they are able to cut overheads and offer some of the cheapest energy packages on the market, which is undoubtedly attractive.
The payoff is that customers of Spark Energy’s advance tariff must, as the name suggests, pay for a month’s energy use in advance.
Obviously, the best energy package will always depend on your specific energy use and needs.
But Spark Energy consistently comes out top on many comparison website tools in terms of price.
Find out if Spark could save you money by comparing energy suppliers
Who are Spark Energy?
Spark Energy has only been around since 2007 and began as a start-up.
Its founders have a background in the letting industry and saw this area as a gap in the energy supply market.
Spark rapidly set out to fill this gap and now claims to be the leading energy supplier for tenants throughout the UK, offering ‘partnerships’ with letting agents to smooth the process of energy supply to tenants.
But it’s also very much open for business for non-tenants too.
Big Plus– Price: this is the company’s standout feature.
Big Minus – Customer service
Elsewhere, the company has tended to score less well in surveys asking about customer service. In fact, among the smaller suppliers it tends to do relatively poorly for customer service and one survey found it took 10 minutes on average to get through to someone on the phone at Spark.
Although the company now says it should take no more than three minutes on average to speak to someone.
So, like many things, all looks great until you find that there are tricky matters to sort out.
Perhaps, then, this is the Ryanair of the energy supply world!
There have also been some controversial teething problems.
In February 2016, the energy regulator Ofgem revealed that a probe it had carried out into Spark found it had broken nearly 10 of its licence conditions.
Among other things, Ofgem said the company had prevented some customers switching to other suppliers, moved customers to other suppliers incorrectly and fallen short of the required standard when handling billing complaints.
Spark agreed to pay a £250,000 fine. Not the best mark on our review.
Spark Energy prices
Like all the smaller, newer suppliers, Spark keeps its prices low by cutting admin costs to the bone.
It’s smaller, so a more nimble and leaner operation than the Big Six with their expensive overheads and large workforces.
Cutting back on these extras, though, may account for the company’s less than shining record of customer service.
Spark currently has a turnover of around £80m, which makes it a true minnow; it has over 250 staff and is based in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.
Spark Energy customer service - what are the company doing to improve?
The customer service failings we mentioned mostly happened between 2010 and 2013 and, in fairness, Spark has taken steps to improve its reputation.
It now offers online account management, a free call-back service and has launched live online chat.
The company also has a dedicated customer review site and undertake not to edit any reviews. But when we looked, negative reviews were very few and far between (to make a complaint, post on A Spokesman Said).
Like rivals First Utility and Ovo Energy, Spark has launched an app, which allows customers enter meter readings and manage bills and payments. The move reflects the fact that 30% of Spark's online traffic now comes from mobiles and tablets.
The best measure of a supplier's service is Ofgem's official complaints date.
Spark's recent performance is middling compared to suppliers of comparable size: between October and December 2016, it received 86 complaints per 10,000 customer accounts.
This was more than table-topping Ecotricity (30), Flow Energy (49), Economy Energy (51) and Good Energy (41), but fewer than Green Star Energy, which received 119 complaints per 10,000 customers.
We like the company’s customer charter because instead of the usual meaningless corporate waffle, it’s written simply and spells out concrete targets and undertakings.
But, of course, as Spark says in its own charter: “It’s all very well saying that we’ll provide you with a five star service, but what does that mean in real life?”
Spark Energy green credentials
One of the big downsides of Spark (assuming, of course, you believe in the need to tackle climate change), is how little of its electricity is generated from renewable sources.
Spark gets a whopping 46.8% of its power from coal, 27.1% from natural gas, 8.4% from nuclear and just 11.9% from renewables.
The national average for coal is just 17%, while renewables is 24%.
Spark Energy Tariffs
There are currently three basic gas and electric tariffs on offer.
With all of these, you’ll do best if you supply regular readings, and once-a-month is recommended.
Move-In Saver v2
Spark's flexible tariff, you can pay by direct debit, pay as you go or by a monthly bill.
This tariff offers flexibility for customers to pay the way they choose without a long contract, but the price they pay for energy will vary and is very unlikely to be the cheapest.
Spark protected (June 18)
With this tariff you get a fixed rate until 30 June 2018 and you pay a predicable amount by direct debit each month.
This is clearly easier for budgeting as you know ahead of time what you’re going to have to pay.
It's also available as a Pay as You Go option.
Direct Debit Advance
This will almost always work out as the cheapest energy tariff – simply because you’re giving the company money in advance.
If this suits you, then it can offer a very competitive package.
Spark is also developing a new tariff aimed at the social and ‘affordable’ housing market. The aim is to offer exclusive deals to those on lower incomes.
Also coming soon, the company says, are new options that use automatic payments from debit cards.
This means customers should only pay for energy actually used every month and avoids the risk of building up debt on an account.
Compare energy suppliers from Spark and across the rest of the market online.
How to switch to Spark Energy
Switching energy is simple and should only take five minutes.
Arm yourself with up-to-date meter readings, your postcode, a copy of your latest bill and personal details to make sure the switch goes quickly and smoothly.
But first, make sure you're a savvy energy consumer by working out exactly what you want in a supplier.
Is price the be all and end all? Or do you want a more renewable provider?
Sometimes when you switch, you're in credit with your old supplier; here's what to do if your ex provider owes you cash.
How to contact Spark Energy
You can reach Spark Energy to talk about their service and tariffs at 0345 034 7474, or 0345 034 7474 from your mobile.
No company is perfect, and if Spark Energy has let you down, then you can make a complaint on A Spokesman Said and demand fair treatment.
What if you change energy supplier – then change your mind?
As with all energy suppliers, you have 14 days to change your mind and cancel after you’ve signed up.
No questions asked.
That means there will be no exit fees – but exit fees WILL apply to some tariffs after this time and you should always ask about these and check the small print before signing up with any energy supplier.
* Very competitive prices – but you’ll have to pay in advance to take advantage of the cheapest.
* Standards of customer service may be a risk – a quick online search reveals a fair few less than happy customers.
* But many of these are from a while back. And, if the company’s own customers’ (unedited, they say) forum is to be believed, service has improved massively.