CHRIS Huhne, the energy minister, promised this week at three Liberal Democrats’ conference, to get tough on energy companies’ pricing policies.
He said he wanted to help people save money by making it easier to spot cheaper deals and switch providers.
But to the ordinary person on the street, Huhne’s speech will come as cold comfort to people whose homes are being made continuously colder by their rising energy bills.
Despite some charities, such as Citizens Advice Scotland, cautiously welcoming the move as a step in the right direction, Huhne’s speech offers little to alleviate the immediate problem of fuel poverty.
Blaming high prices on what he describes as “predatory pricing” and implying that clamping down on energy companies’ sales and marketing plans will contribute to lower bills, is missing the point. Bills are rising. This is partly because world demand for energy is going up, but also because of the £200bn Huhne expects the energy companies’ shareholders will spend over the next decade fixing our inadequate energy system.
These investors are still going to demand a return, a profit, on their risk taking, so expecting energy companies to develop a social conscience and drop prices is pie in the sky.
Huhne saying he wants more people to change energy provider doesn’t solve the existing problem of fuel poverty in Scotland, which now affects an estimated one in three households in the country.
The idea we want to buy our energy like we buy our cereal is just absurd and time consuming. People stick to what they know and often unwittingly continue to pay over the odds for energy because they can’t be bothered changing supplier every few months.
There are around 400 different tariffs with some of the cheapest deals are online, making the process very difficult for many elderly people or those who don’t access the internet.
Glasgow, for example, has the lowest take‐up of home internet than anywhere in the UK.
The Winter Fuel Allowance had increased in recent years, but Chancellor George Osborne stopped the rise this year, meaning the over‐80s now see a drop from £400 to £300 and over‐60s from £300 to £250.
The only way things will change is if fuel companies are forced to act.
Huhne calls the measures radical but the really radical option would be to cap the Big Six from increasing charges above inflation and offering those on the lowest incomes preferential tariffs instead of pursuing the usual rampant profiteering at the expense of the poorest.