Simon Read: The sad tale of high energy prices and mis-selling continues


Energy firms have angered a lot of people in recent months. Rising prices were followed by soaring profits and all the while many of the Big Six firms were put under investigation for unfair charges or widespread mis-selling.

But just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, it's been a week of slapped wrists and potential fines for the firms. On Monday French-owned EDF Energy was rapped by Ofgem for the poor way it dealt with customer complaints. The Energy Watchdog reported that more than half of EDF's customers who made a complaint last year were dissatisfied with how it had been handled. The figures left the company with the worst record for complaints-handling of the Big Six for the second year running.

Then – on Wednesday – Ofgem launched a new investigation into mis-selling claims against E.on, the only Big Six energy supplier which continues the odious practice of flogging its gas and electricity on doorsteps. The watchdog is already investigating the sales tactics of three of the Big Six firms, Scottish Power, SSE and nPower. And its recent investigation into EDF – them again! – resulted in the company agreeing to pay out £4.5m after staff were found to have made misleading claims to customers.

Recently I've spoken to several of the bosses of the Big Six energy firms and they all seem honourable men, keen to point out what they're doing to help customers who are struggling to meet the cost of heating their homes.

But tinkering with tariffs or bleating about the costs of hitting future investment targets do little to help those who are still in fuel poverty.

Research from uSwitch published on Thursday suggested that some four million households are at present behind in their payments to the Big Six. The average amount owed, according to the comparison site, is £131. To the bosses of the energy firms – who command six-figure salaries – the odd £131 is chicken-feed. But to the families having difficulty paying their bills, that amount can feel like a fortune.

The energy firms say they now are much more prepared to talk to struggling customers and help them to find ways to pay their bills. That's to be commended. But it doesn't deal with the problem.

The fact remains that millions struggle to pay bills. That can lead to disastrous conclusions. Those that choose to cut back on heating their homes to save costs are at risk of adding to the growing number of excess winter deaths because of fuel poverty, estimated at 8,000 a year in a recent report.

Others that turn to expensive short-term lenders to pay their bills can quickly end up in a debt spiral, leaving them unable to afford to pay the interest on their debts, let alone be able to pay their new bills.

One solution – supported by Energy Minister Ed Davey – is collective purchasing. But the Big Switch campaign by consumer organisation Which? to get cheaper home energy deals has foundered as energy firm after energy firm refused to take part.

The consumer group has persauded 250,000 people to sign up, demonstrating the massive demand for better deals. So it was pleasing this week to see ethical supplier Co-operative Energy agreeing to get involved. The Co-op – which was launched last year – said it would take part after Which? agreed to allow suppliers to use their existing tariffs in the bid process, which will take place later this month.

A reverse auction will be held with Which? informing its supporters which deal looks best and then making arrangements for them to switch to the better tariff.

The consumer body has been criticised for planning to make a reported £40 for every person who switches under the scheme. Indeed a rival switch campaign has been set up by comparison website Energyhelpline, with a promise to undercut the charges from Which?.

But if the campaign does help people switch to a better enery tariff, it will be worth it.

A similar more localised scheme which has garnered support from Mr Davey is a collaboration between not-for-profit organisation and the Grand Union Housing Group.

It aims to benefit households who might not be used to shopping around on the internet, rather than then 80,000 or so who already switch supplier every week.

The community company charges only £2 for switching and reckons it needs only 10,000 or so to be able to negotiate keener deals with suppliers.

Mike Shamash, founder of thePeoplesPower said: "Our sole aim is to get people the cheapest gas and electricity."

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

REX/Eye Candy
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

    C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

    DevOps Engineer - Linux, Shell, Bash, Solaris, UNIX, Salt-Stack

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: A fast growing Financial Services organisation b...

    Trade Desk FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Support)

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: An award-win...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?