In his speech to the Lib Dem conference, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne made a pledge to “get tough” with the largest UK energy companies concerning energy prices and competition.
In the wake of being accused by Labour of “standing idly by while energy companies raise their prices way above inflation,” Huhne announced a plan to simplify tariffs. He also expressed the need for a system that required energy suppliers to “tell you whether you could buy more cheaply on another tariff.”
This kind of protection for the consumer comes about after the Energy Secretary recently faced criticism for insinuating that consumers who do not shop around for energy providers are “lazy.”
In his defense, Huhne said that is is not about laziness: “It is just that consumers still think that they face the same bill whoever they go to.”
He said that he is in support of “consumer-friendly” organizations, such as co-ops and consumer charities, to help consumers that do not have time to shop for the best deal.
Huhne also wants to give Ofgem the power to fine energy providers on behalf of customers for “bad behaviour,” such as a breach of contract.
Energy UK, which represents the six biggest firms — British Gas, Scottish Power, Scottish and Souther, Npower, E.On and EDF – defended its clients by saying that Britian has the cheapest gas and the fourth cheapest electricity in any major European country.
The Energy Secretary also spoke out against firms that keep prices high for the majority of its customers, but still offer “competitive” pricing online to attract savvy shoppers and new business.
“That looks to me like predatory pricing. It must and will stop,” said Huhne in regards to this practice.
He also criticized the government for cutting the feed-in-tariff scheme. This defunct support scheme paid businesses and homes that generated their own clean energy, if they contributed some to the National Grid.
Labour shadow energy secretary Meg Hiller does not think that Huhne’s speech about “getting tough” on energy companies is enough.
“Labour called for more competition in the market months ago and for a competition commission enquiry. Chris Huhne is fiddling with an already broken system. Labour is calling for radical reform,” said Hiller.