LONDON (Reuters) - The number of British customers switching energy supplier in the first quarter of 2019 rose by 12 percent compared with the same period last year, data from industry group Energy UK showed, despite a government price cap which began in January.
Energy regulator Ofgem was told by parliament last year to set the price limit after lawmakers said customers on the most commonly used standard tariffs were being overcharged for electricity and gas. Prime Minister Theresa May had called the tariffs a "rip-off".
The cap started on Jan. 1 with critics saying it could deter people from searching for cheaper deals and switching supplier.
The data showed more than 1.45 million energy switches took place from the start of January to the end of March, up from 1.3 million over the same period in 2018.
"It's very positive to see increasing numbers of customers continuing to switch and engaging in the market to make sure they're on the best deal," Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK said in a statement.
However, he added that the full impact of the government’s price cap on switching levels would need to be assessed over a longer period of time.
The data does not show which companies gained or lost customers but shows 43 percent of the switches in March were from large to small and mid-tier suppliers, while 11 percent of switches were the other way.
Small and mid-tier suppliers control around 20 percent of the market, up from just 1 percent around seven years ago.
They have gained market share from the so-called big six, able to offer customers cheaper deals due to their often-lower overheads and nimbler operations.
Britain's big six energy suppliers are Centrica's British Gas, SSE, E.ON, EDF Energy, Innogy's Npower and Iberdrola's Scottish Power.
(Reporting By Susanna Twidale; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)