Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May urged to help struggling familes by reforming energy market

Theresa May is being urged to make good her promise to help struggling families by embarking on radical reforms to the energy market in the face of soaring household bills.

The managing director of independent energy player First Utility has called on the Government to force the so-called Big Six providers - British Gas, EDF, E.On, Npower, Scottish Power and SSE - to automatically move millions of customers on the most expensive standard variable tariffs to the cheapest on the market.

Ed Kamm told the Press Association: "I'd like to see the most vulnerable customers - pensioners and those receiving some form of benefits - automatically moved to the cheapest tariffs without an exit fee.

"For example, we've looked at the warm home discount group, about 2.2 million customers, they are more inherently likely to be on a standard variable tariff, which is a bad deal.

"Currently, the Government gives them £140, but then the Big Six energy firms are overcharging them by up to £300."

He is also calling for more transparency and communication in the sector, where energy firms would be legally obliged to provide customers on standard variable tariffs with a list of the cheapest deals in the market.

Mr Kamm believes his proposals will lead to more competition in the energy market and therefore better deals for consumers.

His comments come after a spate of price hikes since the turn of the year, hammering already struggling consumers.

Npower, EDF and Scottish Power are among those to have ramped up prices in recent months, with many attributing the hikes to rising wholesale costs.

Mr Kamm added: "The latest round of price rises has greatly increased the probability of intervention by the Government. If you look at what Theresa May and Greg Clark are saying, they're very focused on the JAMs (just about managings), do I believe it's going to result in action? It's hard to say."

Following the price hikes, a Downing Street spokesman said it was "concerned" but offered no other assurances.

The Government is expected to issue a Green Paper in the spring aimed at addressing the rip-off energy bills, and Mr Kamm believes that it is now or never for strong market intervention to help consumers.

"The Big Six are not going to change their behaviour unless they're forced to, the Government needs to take action. Nineteen years after deregulation, 70% of consumers are still on the worst deals.

"I know six companies that are happy about this situation, but no one else is."