Home Finance Awards 2016

 

After paying the mortgage (or rent) and the taxman, utility bills and grocery shopping are the biggest cost for most households, averaging almost £5,900 a year, or over £100 a week, according to the latest Family Spending Report from the Office for National Statistics.

Of these outgoings, groceries make up £59 of our typical weekly budgets, tallying up to £3,000 a year. Energy bills burn another £1,300 a year (split fairly evenly between gas and electricity), while water sees another £400 a year down the drain.

On top of these bare necessities, most modern households consider services such as broadband, mobile phones and even TV subscriptions as part of their core spending, adding another £1,000 to the annual cost of living. For the average family, this adds up to a yearly bill of almost £6,000 for our home.

With this in mind, our annual Home Finances Awards aims to scrutinise the companies that provide these services, to help you think about whether you’re spending more than you need to on your household bills, and, equally importantly, whether you get value for money and a decent service from the companies you choose to give your hard-earned cash to.

These awards wouldn’t be possible without everyone who took the time to tell us what they think of the companies that cater for their homes, so a big thank you to everyone who took part.

Utilities: gas and electricity 

  • Best value for money: Utility Warehouse
  • Best customer service: Utility Warehouse
  • Clarity of bills: Utility Warehouse
  • Best of the big six: EDF Energy

 

With winter just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about whether you’re happy with your energy supplier, and if you’re not – take your business elsewhere.

Readers scored their gas and electricity providers in terms of value for money, customer service, the clarity of their bills and how likely they were to recommend the service to a friend. We also asked readers to tell us about any money-saving tips or gadgets that their energy suppliers provided to help cut down energy usage and bills, and for those who had switched, what had encouraged them to do so.

Eight out of 10 Moneywise readers say they’ve switched energy supplier in the past five years. If you haven’t, you’re potentially losing out on hundreds of pounds a year. One reader told us that they are now £77 a month better off – that’s more than £900 a year – since they left their  former provider.

Nine out of 10 people who switched said price was a key factor in their decision. The second most likely driver was shoddy customer service, which pushed a quarter of readers elsewhere.

The proliferation of power suppliers means it’s tough to know where to go if you’re not happy with your existing deal but, for Moneywise readers, two firms stand head and shoulders above the rest.

For the second year running, Utility Warehouse dominated, taking the top position on all counts. This company doesn’t just do energy, but offers a suite of services around the home, including broadband, TV and mobile phones, which are consolidated into a monthly bill.

OVO Energy also seriously impressed its customers and was runner-up for value for money, customer service and its clarity of billing. Despite consumers generally having a reputation for inertia and not switching energy suppliers often enough, in six years, OVO Energy has gained 675,000 happy customers.

Sadly, at the other end of the spectrum, some energy providers received the lowest scores of any company in the Home Finances Awards, with the Big Six drawing most of the flak. Some of the most negative comments were reserved for Scottish Power. The firm received plenty of comments about shoddy service, inaccurate billing and eye-watering prices.

While the Big Six providers didn’t score well collectively, there was some variation between them, and EDF Energy should be commended for getting the highest score of the mainstream providers for Best Value For Money. That’s an improvement since 2015, when it was runner-up in the Best Value For Money (Big Six providers) category.

 

Utilities: water

  • Most recommended: Yorkshire Water

 

Most of us don’t have a say in which company pipes water into our homes, but that could soon change if plans to shake up the water market get the go ahead.

An open water market won’t provide huge savings – just £8 a year, according to regulator Ofwat – but most Moneywise readers, as well as the regulator, hope it will drive innovation and improve customer service. 

Should the market be opened up, Yorkshire Water seems to be the company with the most to gain.

Readers scored water providers on customer service and value for money, billing clarity and transparency, and the support companies provide to cut down on water usage and/or save
money on bills.

Moneywise readers scored Yorkshire Water higher than every other water company on every single measure, making it our most recommended supplier. It was highly commended in last year’s awards too. The North West’s United Utilities is the 2016 runner-up for value for money and customer service.

Remember – if you have more bedrooms than people in your house, it’s likely you’ll save money by installing a water meter.

Utilities: Best money-saving tips and gadgets

  • Winner: Utility Warehouse

 

The rise of smart home technology offers the possibility of lower bills and more control at the flick of a smartphone button. The next generation of meters show us exactly how much electricity we’re using on the fly, helping root out devices on standby that quietly keep bills ticking up. Plus web-connected household appliances mean it’s possible to control your energy use even when you’re not at home.

This year, we wanted to identify the water, gas and electricity companies that do the most to pass on the benefit of these technologies to their customers, and we weren’t surprised to see the nimble newcomers out-manoeuvre the incumbents. Gas and electricity suppliers generally fared a little better than water companies, simply because most people have less opportunities to cut their water bill. 

In this category, Utility Warehouse completed its clean sweep to take the top spot. Its customers were impressed by a one-stop full suite of services, including mobiles, landlines, broadband and energy, grouping together most household bills into a single, easy to read bill. Through Utility Warehouse’s referral scheme and retailer cashback offers, customers have plenty of other options to earn a little extra, or to make their spending go further.

Once again, OVO Energy follows closely behind for its money- saving services, claiming to offer savings of up to £250 for new customers. It has already given away 100,000 smart meters as part of a government target for energy providers to offer them as standard by 2020. OVO also lets its Pay As You Go customers top up their credit through their phone, instead of heading to a PayPoint.

 

Supermarkets

  • Best supermarket: Tesco
  • Best value for money: Aldi
  • Best produce: Waitrose
  • Best online supermarket: Tesco

 

The pound’s post-Brexit plummet threatens a surge in inflation for imported goods, particularly food, but thanks to the ongoing price war between the big four supermarkets and discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, any price increases don’t seem to have been passed on to consumers – yet.

Based on the feedback we’ve had from readers, we’ve picked the top supermarkets for value for money, online shopping facilities, and the quality and range of produce that they offer. We also have an all-round ‘Best supermarket’ category that takes all of these factors into account and more, such as loyalty schemes.

Perennial Moneywise favourites Aldi and Lidl continue to offer the best prices, taking first and second place in the value for money category, respectively.

Yet for people who mainly care about the quality of their food and are willing to pay a bit more for it, Waitrose narrowly beat M&S to the Best Produce Award, which considered both food quality and breadth of choice.

Tesco pipped Waitrose to the post in the online shopping category, with several readers commending its “cheap, helpful and always friendly delivery drivers”. This helped Tesco to take home the highly coveted award for best supermarket, thanks to its all-round broad product range, loyalty scheme, online services  and prices.

 

Despite a very different approach, M&S was the runner-up, winning over readers with the quality of its produce and customer service.

Mobile phones

  • Most recommended: Three
  • Best value for money: Giffgaff
  • Most recommended contract: Three
  • Best value for money contract: Tesco Mobile
  • Most recommended PAYG: Giffgaff
  • Best value for money PAYG: Giffgaff

 

In the mobile phone category, readers’ perceptions diverged significantly, depending on whether they were contract or pay-as-you-go (PAYG) customers.

Three was the overall most recommended provider, largely down to the strength of its contracts, for which it was also the most recommended company. It’s a particularly good service for frequent holidaymakers or business travellers, as its Feel at Home service lets people take their call and data allowance to 42 countries at no extra cost, which could save a small fortune on a trip to the US.

Giffgaff, which runs on O2’s network, was voted the best value-for-money service. It offers both PAYG and contract options, which range from £5 a month for the cheapest option to £20 a month for a package with unlimited data (though the speed gets throttled once you’ve used six gigabytes of data).

If you’re looking for a new contract, it’s definitely worth investigating Tesco Mobile, as it was the runner-up in both the Most Recommended and the Best Value For Money categories. Like Giffgaff, it’s a cheaper route to access the O2 network, and customers can also earn Clubcard points.

That’s not to say it’s all about the challenger companies though – Vodafone took the runner-up position in the Best Value For Money Contract Category and, while O2 might not have the most competitive contracts, in the eyes of readers, it does have a very strong PAYG proposition.

 

Home entertainment: broadband

  • Most recommended: Plusnet
  • Best value for money: Plusnet

 

We asked readers to rate their broadband providers on value for money, broadband speeds, reliability, and customer service, as well as how willing they are to recommend the service to a friend.

Yorkshire-based and branded Plusnet, owned by communications behemoth BT, continues to go from strength to strength, winning both the Most Recommended and Best Value For Money accolades. It’s still winning over customers with its low prices, high customer service (for most) and its reliability and trustworthiness.

Virgin Media scored second highest in the Most Recommended category, though quite a few readers took exception to a recent price hike, which followed shortly after a ‘free’ speed upgrade across its network.

Sky scored second highest in the Best Value For Money category – while it’s not the cheapest, you said the service is high quality and, particularly when bundled with its TV services, customers get a lot for what they pay for. Sky also collected the gong for most recommended bundled broadband and TV package.

Home entertainment: paid for TV

  • Most recommended: Sky
  • Best value for money: TalkTalk

 

Despite losing a huge chunk of its sports rights to BT, Sky was comfortably the most recommended TV package in 2016 by Moneywise readers. Its basic package starts at £12 a month, and has substantially more channels than its competition, plus Sky Atlantic is arguably the best place to catch blockbuster TV series imported from America, such as Game of Thrones and Westworld.

However, Sky’s premium TV packages aren’t cheap, particularly if your household wants access to both the paid-for film and sports categories, though savvy readers who tried to haggle down the cost of their package reported more success with Sky than with other providers.

Elsewhere, BT’s investment in sport has paid off, making it the second most recommended provider, and also runner-up in the value-for-money category, though the best-value service was from TalkTalk.

Home entertainment: Video on demand

  • Most recommended: Netflix
  • Best for choice: Netflix
  • Best value for money: Amazon Prime
  • Best for mobile: Amazon Prime

 

Video on demand (VoD) has come a long way since the service first launched a few short years ago. Netflix and Amazon have grown beyond hubs to catch up on classic films and TV and are now producing their own critically acclaimed content, such as The Man in the High Castle, and the Top Gear spin-off from Jeremy Clarkson and co. 

VoD offers more flexibility than a traditional television, doesn’t cut to ad breaks every 15 minutes, and the costs are usually a fraction of the price of a satellite TV package. It can also give cheap access to traditional paid-for programmes, with Now TV offering single day passes to premium sports and film channels, or pay-per-view events.

We asked readers to score companies on value for money, the range of entertainment on offer, how services cater for mobile users and, ultimately, how likely they are to recommend the service to a friend.

This was a closely contested category, with Netflix ultimately being named most recommended, and securing top position for its range of entertainment. However, Amazon Prime was seen as a better value service overall, not least because its full service goes beyond video on demand. It also offers free one-day delivery on Amazon orders, as well as free Kindle book rentals, though you’ll need to stump up for the device or install the Kindle app on a smartphone or tablet. Amazon Prime users also appreciate the advance warning before popular shows are pulled, while Netflix has a tendency to quietly bump shows off.

Amazon also nabbed the top spot for mobile, narrowly beating Netflix, with its growing range of shows that can be downloaded and viewed on the move, which is particularly helpful if you don’t have a big data allowance on your phone, or are travelling through areas with patchy signals.

While Now TV failed to retain all of its accolades from last year, it consistently scored highly and was highly commended in three categories. If you’ve not yet tried video on demand, you could consider a free trial with Amazon or Netflix, but remember you’ll be billed if you don’t cancel in the first month. Around a third of Moneywise readers who rated their VoD provider said they’ve made the most of these free trials by shifting between providers.   

 

Wondering which banks, building societies and insurers are worth your trust? Our Customer Service Awards round up fellow readers' experiences.