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British Gas, E-On, Npower, EDF, Opus Energy, SSE, Corona Energy, scottish power

News

Ofgem Business Energy Review

For years now we have lived through an era of rising energy bills, both domestically and commercially, at a time when the economy itself has been fragile.  Although companies like Utility Helpline have been working hard to keep prices as low as possible, there seemed little incentive for anyone else to take action.  Meanwhile, the phrase “The Big Six” - used to denote the largest energy companies - seems to linger more like a phrase from The Sopranos than an industry dedicated to keeping us warm and to keeping the lights on. Recently, energy regulator Ofgem asked for a full investigation into the conduct of the energy market, to be handled by the CMA - the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The so-called Big Six - Centrica, E.On, EDF, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE – are all names we will be familiar with – and between them they now handle about 95% of the energy supplied in the UK.  At this stage Ofgem is shying away from any discussion of cartels, but certainly there seems to be fresh impetus for someone to take a look into the synchronous timing - and strangely similar amounts - of the annual price rises that we all experience.  Certainly there is a concern about the effectiveness, and robustness, of competition within the sector.

Business energy price rises

There has also been confusion over the reality of these price rises, and how that has affected the profits of the energy giants.  They maintain the make modest profits.  In fact, it seems the Big Six’s profit margins are indeed higher than was previously thought.  This has contributed to the breakdown in trust between the Big Six and their customers/consumers. The issue has become such a hot potato it is now the basis on which the political parties form positions.  At last year’s Labour conference, Ed Miliband surprised everyone by suggesting that, were Labour to be elected, they would freeze energy prices for 20 months.  Miliband went on to call into question the effectiveness of Ofgem itself. Utility Helpline will, of course, continue to monitor developments and feedback on the likely impact on business energy customers.  At this stage it is hard to predict what might be uncovered.  Last month, the CMA began stepping up the market investigation, following on from the recent responses to its ‘Statement of Issues’ and Ofgem’s submission. The Big Six themselves are already suggesting the investigation will delay investment and might led to an increased risk of blackouts… a rather common threat.  On the other side there is already talk that the Big Six need to be broken up, to encourage real competition. The provisional findings of the review are likely to be released around June 2015.  


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