Skip to main content

Energy Tariffs

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011

5. What recent discussions he has had with energy suppliers on the provision to consumers of information on how to access the cheapest tariff. (75588)

The UK low-carbon and environmental sector is growing strongly, despite the disappointing recovery. It employs about 910,000 people, and this could reach more than 1 million by 2015—[Interruption.]

Order. I think the Secretary of State might have the wrong link-up between question and answer.

You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker.

We have negotiated a voluntary agreement with suppliers to provide consumers with a prompt on their bills to cheaper deals this winter, and an additional communication to their customers who pay by cash or cheque to let them know how much they could save by moving to the cheapest direct debit tariff. There is also a commitment from suppliers to assess the impact of the prompt on bills and to improve it in the light of this evidence.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Last week a Which? investigation uncovered the appalling behaviour of the big six energy companies, finding that they failed to offer the cheapest tariff in a third of calls. I welcome the moves announced this week, although I remain slightly cynical about the willingness of the energy companies to give consumers the fairest deal. Ofgem currently has the power to fine energy companies, but surely it should also be able to force companies to pay compensation in cases such as those highlighted by the Which? report, where they have effectively been mis-selling and providing inaccurate information.

I consider mis-selling to be a very serious offence, and it is a matter for the independent regulator Ofgem to investigate. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Ofgem has the power to fine energy companies. When customers have lost out, I expect energy companies to pay compensation. Unfortunately, Ofgem currently does not have the power to force companies to give consumer redress, despite the last Government having 13 years and several energy Bills to give it that power. This Government are not going to sit on our hands, unlike those on the Opposition Benches. We are carefully considering legislation on the issue as part of the next energy Bill.

Last week the Secretary of State wrote to me explaining that he believed that doorstep selling was a useful method for the big six in the industry to encourage people to a better tariff. Given that two days ago RWE npower became the fourth of the big six to give up the practice, does he not see some irony in the fact that the organisations that he was supposed to be castigating are way ahead of him?

The key issue with doorstep selling is whether the companies believe that they can control the work forces who are doing it. If they do not believe that the safeguards are adequate and that they face a reputational risk, that is a commercial matter for them to decide on.