Big energy firms 'treat consumers with contempt'


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The Independent Online

Consumers have become more fed up than ever with Britain's Big Six energy firms. New research shows that 84 per cent of people believe that gas and electricity suppliers maximise profits at the expense of customers.

The Big Six – British Gas, EDF, E.on, nPower, Scottish Energy and SSE – have come under heavy criticism for soaring bills, but the YouGov report suggests that it's their bloated profits that really make people angry.

Three out of five people said they agreed that the energy suppliers treat people with contempt – an indication of their customers' lack of trust and the scale of the public relations problem that the firms face.

YouGov Sixth Sense research director, James McCoy, said the findings are unequivocal. "The strength and negativity of feeling regarding the energy companies' profits is clearly demonstrated," he said. "The findings suggest that many people are more outraged by the profits being made than by their actual energy bill."

In a clear sign that high bills are hitting home, one in five people said they have difficulty affording their energy bills, and just under a third have made cutbacks to pay their bills. Figures published last week revealed that consumers now owe £478m to energy companies; nearly four million households are in debt to their gas or electricity supplier. Households owe an average of £131, according to uSwitch.

Heating and electricity charges have soared 53 per cent in the past five years, pushing up the cost of the average yearly home energy bill by a massive £433. In the last year alone average bills have climbed by £183, or 17 per cent, to £1,252.

Yesterday it was revealed that a quarter of households have been wrongly billed by their energy supplier in the past two years.

That meant that more than nine million families discovered they were apparently in debt to their energy supplier after a discrepancy between an estimated bill and a "real" bill.

The average amount owed after an incorrect bill is now £152, according to uSwitch.