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If there were an award for the ultimate “yes, but...” question then this would surely win it.
Annoyingly in business energy contracting ‘Fixed’ does not always mean fixed all of the time.
Whilst we cannot change this peculiarity of the market we can help your business understand exactly what to expect from any energy contract you are entering into.
Before we get to the ‘fixed’ nature of deals however we need to consider a wider question:
The energy price is made up of the following ingredient parts:
the cost of the raw energy commodity;
Third-party charges are those essentials of the energy price that the supplier doesn’t control.
We can safely say that all fixed energy deals include the following costs as a matter of course:
However, some suppliers choose to exclude some or all of the following:
And all will as a matter of course exclude:
This can prove confusing; indeed the old phrase “not comparing apples with apples” is very relevant here.
A striking headline price could come out cheapest of all yet it could eliminate some costs meaning that a ‘more’ costly but fully inclusive deal provides a better price!
This is where we can help, letting you know exactly what is included and what isn’t and ensuring that the deal you are signing up to is the deal that you think you are.
Because of the way the business energy market is set up, the suppliers are not in power of all fundamentals of the final energy price.
These charges are recognized by the government (levies, taxes) and by third party organizations (metering services, transportation). These charges change annually and at times more often.
As result suppliers rely on an estimation of these costs in order to determine the price they offer to customers. As some contracts are priced for periods of anything up to 5 years multiple changes must be estimated accurately in order to best ensure that the supplier can recover likely costs.
Some energy suppliers are happy to fix their costs at this assessment level and as a result, offer a fixed price with no scope for change. These energy suppliers may have built-in an extra cost buffer or may have full confidence in their prediction and are happy to offer a deal without such a premium.
Other suppliers prefer to err on the side of caution and whilst they include these estimations in their price they also reserve the right to pass through any changes of sufficient materiality. This may result in these energy suppliers offering a keener price but with the option to revise the amount you pay should commercial circumstances require.
Ultimately it will depend on a supplier’s commercial decisions as to whether a price change is enacted.
For all other suppliers, however, there is scope to make changes although such changes are rare, and in most instances where they are material enough, they should allow the customer to break their contract.
Unless the contract specifically states that the energy price is readily variable the likelihood of this, the biggest cost element, and therefore the most material sum, changing is relatively low. If this element were to change customers should be able to break their contract if they were unhappy with the offered price.
These prices may vary significantly region by region, meter by meter and year by year. Particularly in the gas industry, it can be a problem for forecasters. Indeed it is here that a ‘pass-through’ of a cost is most likely. Because any ‘cost’ here is universal i.e. any supplier supplying it would be charged the same, it is less likely that a change would trigger a break clause in the contract. That said the incidences of price changes for transportation and metering costs are increasingly rare.
By their very nature, these costs are hard to pin down, indeed they tend to be based on estimates of estimates. As a result, this is the area of charging that is most susceptible to a pass-through of costs. As the table above showed us, these are also the elements that are most likely to not be included at all in some supplier's prices.
Happily, these costs are relatively small, although not insignificant elements of the energy price. As such a pass-through will be less impactful than a revision of energy, transportation or metering costs but it still has the capacity to significantly alter the competitiveness of a contract once all costs are included.
A price that is not ‘fully’ fixed is not necessarily bad. It certainly isn’t necessarily the case that the supplier is trying to ‘hoodwink’ you.
Rather it is the case that the supplier is offering their best terms whilst also covering themselves for unforeseeable eventualities. In the most example, these clauses will never be invoked so the price you sign up to is the price you will most likely pay. However there is the capacity there to make a change, however unlikely that may be.
That said what should not be forgotten is that some energy suppliers do not even include an approximate of some costs, mainly levies, in their offer price. In this situation, it is guaranteed that the price you will pay will be higher than the offer price. This is unavoidable, as all suppliers must collect the levies in full. The key here is to be aware of what is included and what is not and to ensure you are comparing “apples with apples”.
The market would be significantly easier to navigate if all costs were included and fixed, however, if this was the case the opportunity for striking a great deal (accepting some risk of a price increase) would disappear.
On balance then, as long as you know what is included, and budget for anything missing, in our experience it is more the previous of a contract clause rather than a commercial essential that marks the difference between a fully and partially fixed business energy contract.