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Energy switching services are companies that have come to exist since the EU began deregulating the gas and electricity markets, to open them to competition, in 1996. Progress has been uneven across member countries, but in the UK there is now open competition among suppliers. Pricing structures and special offers are often complicated enough that it's not obvious which supplier and tariff will be best value for a consumer. This has provided an opportunity for specialist price comparison services. These are chiefly offered by companies who will manage a change to a different supplier and tariff, as well as advising on the best one. These companies primarily operate over the Web, although some also offer a telephone service.
Energy switching companies usually operate on a commission model, where they are paid a flat fee by a supplier for each customer that they persuade to switch. This has been the cause of some controversy. In order to ensure that advice remains impartial, energywatch, the UK gas and electricity watchdog, operates a voluntary code of conduct. To be accredited under the code, switching companies must satisfy Energywatch that: