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Utility bills market to be investigated

An investigation has been launched by Ofgem, the energy industry regulator, looking at whether the UK gas and electricity market – dominated by six suppliers – is giving consumers a fair deal.

The announcement by Ofgem comes after the news that Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, has raised its profits nearly six-fold in the past year – following a double-digit increase in its customers' bills.

Commenting on the Centrica results, Adam Scorer from consumer group Energywatch said: "British Gas customers will want to tear their hair out when they hear the scale of these profits and compare them with their own rising bills.

"It's perfectly true that there is volatility in wholesale energy markets [an argument used by suppliers to justify price increases]. But it seems equally true that such volatility hits consumers not shareholders."

The announcement of Ofgem's investigation came as something of a surprise to industry watchers. Only recently it said it thought the energy market was not dysfunctional. However, an Ofgem spokesman said people could be confident that it would bring "a completely open mind" to the probe.