A series of reductions to domestic tariffs by three of the UK’s ‘Big Six’ energy companies have been given a cautious welcome, but consumer groups have warned much more needs to be done to support hardpressed households.
Last week EDF Energy sparked a ‘price war’ by pledging to cut its domestic gas tariff by an average of 5 per cent from next month. The following day British Gas announced it would cut electricity prices by 5 per cent with immediate effect, while Scottish and Southern (SSE) will reduce gas tariffs by 4.5 per cent on 26 March.
In response, consumer groups said that while any price reduction was welcome, the decreases were tokenistic and widened the gap between the wholesale and consumer price for gas. In recent months, the three tariffs had gone up 16 per cent, 18 per cent and 15.4 per cent respectively.
Commentators said the energy firms were once again guilty of acting as a herd and failing to offer customers competitive tariffs. In a letter to Holyrood, Mark Todd, director of the independent comparison site energyhelpline.
com, said the discounted rates represented a cautious move and failed to adequately compensate consumers for previous rises.
“Clearly, after the price-cutting moves by EDF, British Gas and SSE a domino effect is in motion as the ‘Big Six’ try to protect their margins and market share,” he wrote.
“However, these reductions, averaging 2-3 per cent off dual fuel bills, are tiny in comparison to the 20+ per cent price rises of the last 18 months. The price drops are less than analysts expected and much less than what consumers need.
“We believe there is room for price cuts of around 10 per cent because of the recent dramatic falls in wholesale prices. Even though these falls have been around 30 per cent since the summer peak, clearly the major suppliers do not feel they can go any further than 4-5 per cent off one fuel.
While the price cuts are welcome, “there are other things energy companies could do to better support vulnerable consumers,” said Matt Lancashire of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
Today sees the launch of Big Energy Week, a CAS-coordinated advice campaign aimed at giving consumers practical help and advice to cut their fuel bills and get all the financial support they are entitled to.
Lancashire said he hopes the campaign, which has received the backing of government, consumer groups and charities, has helped push the major energy suppliers into engaging with consumers.
He continued: “We’d like to think the energy companies are listening to us; are realising that charities and governments and other organisations are getting together [on this issue].
“We want gas and electricity that is affordable and doesn’t cost 10 per cent of anyone’s income.” Ian Peters, managing director of energy at British Gas, said the company was committed to insulating consumers from high prices.