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Business Comment

Simon Read: The Government needs to get the big energy firms under control


It comes as little surprise that energy giant British Gas has today followed its smaller rival SSE in announcing a massive winter price hike for its customers. The move will affect some 7.8 million British Gas customers who will see their bills jump by £125 from 23 November.

The average price hike of 9.2 per cent is three and a half times the rate of inflation, and will put into sharp focus the growing pressures on hard-up households to survive. The move will leave average annual bills at a record high - £1,465 a year - forcing many more hard-up households into fuel poverty.

Profits at the big six energy companies have soared by 74 per cent since 2009. Meanwhile customers are facing annual winter increases of around 10 per cent and this looks set to continue year after year. It's obvious that we need to get control of the energy firms to ensure that people are not being left with the choice of heating or eating.

Here's what Which?'s Richard Lloyd says: “Current plans to reform the energy market simply don’t go far enough. We want the Government to intervene to make sure everything possible is done to keep prices in check. We need simpler pricing, we need to break the stranglehold of the biggest energy companies by separating domestic supply from generation and the Government must make sure that its own policies are not adding unnecessary costs to consumers’ bills."

But we need to go further. Every year more vulnerable people will turn down – or turn off – their heating to cut costs. Many with disastrous consequences.

In fact there were an estimated 24,000 excess winter deaths in Britain in 2011/12 – with around a third of them caused through a lack of adequate heating. If even one person dies because they can't afford to heat their home, then there's something very broken in this country. For that reason the Government has to get the big energy firms under control and ensure that people can afford essential gas and electricity.