Summit is condemned as wasted chance to put pressure on big six

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The Independent Online

The Government's much-vaunted energy summit was condemned as a "big wasted opportunity" by a leading independent participant yesterday, who accused politicians of failing to put enough pressure on the "big six" gas and electricity providers to lower bills.

As a result of the summit, which started a campaign by David Cameron to cut energy bills, the big six agreed to write to eight million households to tell them that they can save money by switching to direct debit.

Although the energy companies will not change any of their charges, many households appear not to be aware that they can shave about £100 off their annual dual-fuel bill by switching, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

However, Stephen Fitzpatrick, managing director of Ovo Energy, one of only two independent gas and electricity retailers to attend the meeting, was unimpressed with the move.

"It's a really big wasted opportunity. To have all those people together in the same room – the Energy Secretary, the Prime Minister, Which?, Consumer Focus, Ofgem, the big six – and to come up with nothing that we haven't heard before," he said.

"Why don't the big six automatically put their customers on to better tariffs, or why don't they reduce the most expensive tariffs. Why put the onus on the customers, writing to them to tell them they can pay less," he added.

Mr Cameron urged households to change supplier, make sure they are on the cheapest tariff and insulate their homes. He also reiterated earlier demands by Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, pictured, and Ofgem that the big six make it easier for customers to compare tariffs and switch providers.

The summit was convened after a round of price rises that left more than a quarter of households in "fuel poverty", where more than 10 per cent of their post-tax income is spent on gas and electricity. The big six also agreed yesterday to write letters to four million of the most vulnerable customers to tell them they are eligible for free or discounted insulation to their lofts or cavity walls under existing schemes.

With the average dual-fuel bill now at a record average of £1,345, high unemployment and a poor economic outlook, the rising cost of energy has become an issue that the Government is keen to be seen tackling.

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