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NMa effort to improve web information for energy consumers

The quality of price comparison websites for electricity and gas has significantly improved since energy market liberalisation in 2004 and now remains stable. Thus concludes the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) in its annual survey report of price comparison websites. The survey is part of a series of NMa measures geared to improving transparency in the energy market. Pieter Kalbfleisch, Chairman of the Board of the NMa: 'Sound operations in the energy market first of all require the fair and transparent provision of information to consumers.'

Consumers may safely look up price comparison websites, says the NMa. The websites are annually assessed on four aspects: accuracy, comprehensiveness, independence and transparency. It is apparent form the survey report published today that price comparison websites are of good quality, as was the case last year. Nevertheless, a slight fall in accuracy and completeness occurred, owing to the increased complexity of the energy market. This complexity is due to the increased variety of products on offer, now also including, for instance, fixed-price contracts. In addition, energy is being provided through a greater number of resale channels. The increase in complexity augments the importance of price comparison websites to consumers.

This year the NMa also started a survey of the information provided on energy company websites. The Office of Energy Regulation (DTe) of the NMa scrutinised some 32 websites of energy providers and resalers in the past few months. It particularly focused on the comprehensiveness of tariff information. It should be clear to consumers which additional costs – including energy tax – are charged for purchasing electricity and gas. Kalbfleisch: 'We consider a uniform and comprehensive overview of prices, as is now being introduced for the travel sector, to be of fundamental importance to restoring consumer confidence in the energy market.'

The NMa observes that the quality of information provided on a number of websites already showed improvement during the course of the survey, though other sites leave much to be desired. Also, energy providers should pay more attention to information provided on cancellation charges. Information on cancellation charges must be clearly outlined for consumers and should not be hidden in small print.

Companies are being granted the opportunity to introduce the necessary changes to their websites before mid-July this year. If this were not to be done properly, the NMa could choose to implement measures.

Both surveys fit a series of measures taken by the NMa to improve transparency in the energy market. The large-scale consumer survey, which the NMa carried out last year, showed that consumers still perceive the energy market to be insufficiently transparent. In particular, there is a need for improved comparison of information on price and quality of services delivered by the various energy providers. It also became apparent that consumers would like to find more information on their rights and duties in the event of switching energy provider.

Other NMa measures geared to improving transparency in the energy market are: providing insight into the quality of complaint-processing procedures with energy providers and into the timeliness of billing. Furthermore, the NMa focuses on informing energy consumers about their rights and duties via the ConsuWijzer website.

The survey report on the quality of price comparison websites is available at the website of the NMa and the website of ConsuWijzer ( www.consuwijzer.nl). These websites also feature practical advice and tips on how to use prices comparison websites for electricity and gas.