Snap election threatens Government plan to finally lower energy bills

Energy customers face further delays from government in dealing with with soaring bills, MPs heard on Wednesday.

Business secretary Greg Clark accused companies of “flagrant mistreatment” and “milking” their customers in a “broken” market, but insisted the snap general election announced by Theresa May on Tuesday meant he would “have to reflect on the timing” to lay out his long-awaited plans for a crackdown.

“The response you will see will be muscular and strong, and it will apply to all the companies that are disadvantaging consumers,” he said.

Five of the Big Six energy firms have hiked prices this year, with EDF doing so for a second time last week. Only British Gas has ruled out increases until August.

In June last year a two-year investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority found that the majority of UK households were paying “over the odds” and said consumers had paid £2bn more than they should have in 2015/2016 because the energy sector is uncompetitive.

Speaking to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, Mr Clarke acknowledged the detriment but insisted that there had been “no delay” in his department taking action. 

“We’ll publish our response to the CMA report very shortly and you will see… it will take very decisive action to address what even Ofgem the regulator has criticised as being prices that were difficult to justify,” Mr Clark said.

However he did not commit to a timeline for taking action. “When you have an election, there are a number of things in final stages of preparation that you need to reflect on whether they can be finalised in time,” he said.

Mr Clark said the the current regulatory regime had not been able to fix the energy market, particularly for people on standard variable energy tariffs.

The CMA’s report stopped short of recommending a cap on standard tariffs, instead favouring measures to make it easier for customers to switch providers. 

Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May warned big energy companies that the Government would step in to control prices in a market that is “manifestly not working” for customers.

“Our party did not end the unjust and inefficient monopolies of the old nationalised energy corporations only to replace them with a system that traps the poorest customers on the worst deals,” she said. 

Ms May told the Conservative Party spring conference in Cardiff she would crack down on businesses that “abuse the system”.

This year, Npower increased its electricity prices by 15 per cent and gas prices by 4.8 per cent.

E.On has announced increases to electricity prices of 13.8 per cent and gas prices of 3.8 per cent, Scottish Power raised its electricity prices by 10.8 per cent and gas prices by 4.7 per cent. EDF, said electricity prices will jump by 18.1 per cent, while SSE will raise electricity prices by 14.9 per cent.

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