Archbishop of Canterbury attacks big six energy firms over 'inexplicable' price rises

Justin Welby insisted the Big Six companies had an obligation to behave morally rather than just maximising profit

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The Independent Online

The recent energy price hikes make people understandably angry, says the Archbishop of Canterbury, who called on big power companies to be "conscious of their social obligations".

Justin Welby insisted the Big Six power companies had an obligation to behave morally rather than just maximising profit.

Last week Scottish and Southern Electricity announced an 8.2 per cent price rise, and British Gas followed that with the announcement that  its electricity prices were to surge by 10.4 per cent and its gas prices by 8.4 per cent from 23 November. The rises would mean £125 a year added to the bills of almost eight million customers. Whilst blaming a range of external factors, the company said it “understood the frustration” of consumers.

And speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Welby said: "The impact on people, particularly on low incomes, is going to be really severe in this (the price rises), and the companies have to justify fully what they are doing.

"I do understand when people feel that this is inexplicable, and I can understand people being angry about it, because having spent years on a low income as a clergyman I know what it is like when your household budget is blown apart by a significant extra fuel bill and your anxiety levels become very high. That is the reality of it."

Welby, himself a former oil executive, invoked a social responsibility on the power companies, stemming from how vital their product is to people's everyday lives.

He said: "They have control because they sell something everyone has to buy. We have no choice about buying it. With that amount of power comes huge responsibility to serve society.

"It is not like some other sectors of business where people can walk away from you if they don't want to buy your product and you are entitled to seek to maximise your profit."

The political fallout from the hikes continues to swirl, with Labour leader Ed Miliband's party conference pledge to freeze prices for 20 months doing well in polls but dismissed as a "con" by Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr Cameron encouraged consumers to switch suppliers to keep bills down.