It's cold outside - and the energy companies aren't helping

14 October 2011

‘No news is good news’ the saying goes, which unfortunately means the recent flurry of  news stories about energy companies is a whole lot of bad news for billpayers. The average dual fuel bill is now £1,345, according to energy industry watchdog Ofgem. And, at the moment, it seems there’s no likelihood of this figure doing anything other than increasing.

On top of that rumours of snow by the end of the month and another potentially bitter winter (last year I remember wearing Ugg boots over slipper socks into the office: my feet were toasty if a little immobile) will add to the woe of billpayers. There is after all a limit to how many fleecy and woolly layers it’s possible to wear before turning the heating on. 

The energy companies repeatedly gush that they really don’t want to up bill rates and if there was any way possible to not charge the customer more then they would endeavour to do so – but unfortunately (creep creep) they have no option but to pass on the costs to consumers. Excuse me while I wring out my fake handkerchief.

Energy costs are undeniably increasing for the energy suppliers and the government’s green targets will cost them dearly too. However, it’s hard to accept such dramatic rises in price when we also learnt this week that the providers now stand to make £125 profit on each customer. The profit margin has increased by a huge £110 since June when companies made £15 profit per customer.

Ofgem says this amount is based on what energy firms would make if energy prices and bills don’t change for the next year and therefore predicts the £125 figure to drop to £90 by next year. But that’s rather optimistically assuming that energy costs will go down and given recent upward trends how can we assume everything will be toasty (in all senses) next year?

Doing themselves no favours in the popularity stakes, an undercover investigation from Which? showed some of the energy providers are rather good at fudging the information they tell customers. Scottish and Southern Electric (SSE) came out worst: in only three out of 12 calls was the ‘customer’ offered the cheapest tariff. Apparently this is because what’s best for the customer will vary with each individual – true but I’m not about to applaud SSE for its tolerant and inclusive outlook to all. Which? after all explicitly asked to know the cheapest deal.

Like ‘he’s behind you!’ panto villains, the energy companies just make it so easy for us to dislike them. But whereas pantomime baddies disappear by mid-January, unfortunately energy companies and their tricksy practices seem to have a much longer shelf-life.