MPs demand inquiry into great energy 'swindle'

An investigation into claims the "big six" energy suppliers are swindling millions of customers through manipulation of household fuel bills will be demanded by politicians today.

Amid growing anger over energy prices, 51 MPs have signed a Commons motion calling for a competition inquiry into whether British Gas, EDF and other suppliers are unfairly failing to pass on steep falls in wholesale costs.

The shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Liberal Democrat energy spokesman, Simon Hughes, have signed the motion, to be tabled by the Labour backbencher John Grogan.

It calls for an investigation by the Competition Commission into the pricing behaviour of the "big six" suppliers, which could lead to price caps being imposed on the £27bn-a-year household energy business. Hundreds more MPs could back the move because, in addition to being official Tory and Liberal Democrat policy, fuel bills are above average in Labour's heartlands in the north of England and Scotland.

Anger is growing over energy prices because the "big six" – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern – have cut bills by only 4 per cent this year to £1,140, despite wholesale costs, which make up 60 per cent of the bill, halving in the past year. Minnows such as First:Utility and OVO Energy have recently introduced bills as low as £921, £440 cheaper than Scottish Power's tariff of £1,361.

The "Great Energy Rip-Off" campaign, launched by The Independent two weeks ago, is calling for price reductions of 10 per cent, the extent of overcharging estimated by Britain's biggest energy analyst, McKinnon & Clarke.

Ofgem last year cleared the "big six" of collusion to fix prices, but Mr Grogan, who believes his early-day motion will attract significant support, suggested the problem lay not in an outright cartel but in their dominance.

As well as supplying 99 per cent of households, the "big six" own a network of power stations, making them strong examples of "vertically-integrated" businesses.

Mr Grogan, MP for Selby, said: "I do not think that the 'big six' energy companies meet together and fix prices, but their sheer dominance in the market and the vertical integration of power generation and retail distribution have led to a disconnect between wholesale and retail prices."

For the Tories, Mr Clark complained the relationship between wholesale prices and the bills families received was opaque. "Even the Government's own watchdog, Consumer Focus, has said that every household is paying £96 a year too much. The Government should cut through the confusion and end it once and for all by a swift, forensic reference to the Competition Commission."

The "big six" suppliers say they cannot lower prices because they are locked into expensive, long-term contracts agreed when prices spiked last year and have been hit by rising environmental costs and bad debt. In September, they rebuffed Ofgem's demand for them to outline a timetable for cuts in prices to the UK's 26 million electricity and 22 million gas customers.

Some experts believe that they will try to hold off announcing cuts until January, to ensure families pay high rates during peak demand in the winter.









However they are under rising pressure because of the price cuts by new rivals and political concern about worsening fuel poverty. According to figures released last week, the number of households paying 10 per cent or more of their income on fuel bills had risen to 6.6m this year, one in four families.

A week ago, the Energy Secretary, Ed Miliband effectively admitted that previous energy regulation had been too weak and set out plans for tougher oversight, particularly for generation amid some evidence of “market abuse” by the big suppliers.

An inquiry by the Competition Commission would look into whether competition in the market was being “prevented, distorted or restricted” and could have widespread consequences. It would have the power to recommend the break-up of the £27bn-a-year industry.

During the last two years, its “market remedies” have led to the end of BAA’s dominance of airports in the South-east, the introduction of a ‘competition test’ for new hypermarkets, and reforms to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.

Mr Grogan, MP for Selby, said: “The only argument against a Competition Commission review that Ed Miliband has ever given me is that it would create a period of uncertainty.

“Now that both opposition parties and a large slice of Labour backbenchers support a Competition Commission referral that uncertainty exists anyway in advance of a General Election. The way to end that uncertainty is to let the Competition Commission get on with the job of investigating the ‘Big Six’ energy companies.”

Responding to the motion, Ofgem “shared the anxiety” felt by millions of households about high energy bills this winter.

It said: “Given consumer expectations arising from widely reported reductions in wholesale energy prices suppliers owe their customers an explanation of their pricing.”





Early Day Motion: This House calls for a Competition Commission investigation into the relationship between wholesale prices and retail prices offered to consumers by the 'Big Six' energy suppliers, namely British Gas, E.ON, EDF Energy, Npower, Scottish & Southern and ScottishPower.





Supporters



1. Alan Simpson

2. Betty Williams

3. David Drew

4. Andrew George

5. Lynne Jones

6. Doug Naysmith

7. Joan Walley

8. Eddie O’Hara

9. Mike Wood

10. John McDonnell

11. Jeremy Corbyn

12. Brian Iddon

13. Bill Olner

14. Kelvin Hopkins

15. Mohammed Sarwar

16. Dai Davies

17. Michael Clapham

18. Paul Rowen

19. David Taylor

20. Bob Russell

21. Paul Truswell

22. Paul Holmes

23. Martin Caton

24. Jim Cousins

25. John Austin

26. John Hemming

27. Gordon Prentice

28. Bob Spink

29. Derek Wyatt

30. Tom Levitt

31. Nick Harvey

32. Peter Bottomley

33. David Heyes

34. Albert Owen

35. Laura Moffatt

36. Adrian Sanders

37. Ann Cryer

38. Mark Durkan

39. Colin Burgon

40. Gordon Marsden

41. Dave Anderson

42. Linda Riordan

43. Jim Dobbin

44. Denis Murphy

45. Simon Hughes

46. Harry Cohen

47. Greg Clark

48. John Battle

49. Elfyn Llwyd

50. Elliot Morley

51. Sandra Osborne



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions