Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has some tough words for the so-called "big six" energy firms today, vowing to "get tough" amid soaring household fuel bills.
He has announced a raft of measures to help hard-pressed consumers switch suppliers more easily, bulk-buy power as part of a collective, and make sure they get information about cheaper offers elsewhere. Regulator Ofgem will also be beefed up, with the prospect of fines for firms that go straight back to bill-payers rather than the Treasury pot, and "anti-competitive" predator pricing stamped out.
"There is hardship now, and we are determined to help," said Huhne. "Higher energy bills hurt".
It is an explicit recongition that households are struggling with double-digit rises imposed by all of the big six firms in recent weeks.
Whether it will work remains to be seen, but the measures have been given a strong welcome by consumer groups.
Comparison site uSwitch.com said they would allow Ofgem to "take the gloves off" and were "just the kind of ammunition that consumers need".
Consumer Focus said the package would help save "much-needed cash" but warned a competition commission probe might still be needed if there is no progress. Which? said action was "overdue but welcome".
For their part, the industry has defended its record. Energy UK director Christine McGourty said Britain has "one of the most competitive energy markets anywhere in the world" and "the cheapest gas and the fourth cheapest electricity of all the leading European countries". She also backed measures that encourage people to make sure they are getting the best deal.
With the nights drawing in and the mercury plummeting, progress can't come soon enough.
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