The many small stores who find themselves outgunned in the ongoing battle against the giants of gas and electricity supply can take some comfort from new licensing conditions set by the industry's regulator.

Ofgem's new controls on the power barons are intended to safeguard micro-businesses in their dealing with their energy suppliers. The definition of a micro-business is:

one that employs fewer than 10 people (full time equivalent);

has an annual turnover of less than £1.8m;

or which uses less than 200,000 kWh of gas, or 55,000 kWh of electricity per year.

A good proportion of the UK's smaller c-stores may fall into this category and therefore benefit from the changes.

The new rules, which will apply to new contracts entered into after January 18 next year, require that before entering into a contract, the supplier must make you aware of the key terms and conditions.

Within 10 days of a contract being agreed (or an existing contract is extended) your supplier must send you a printed version of the full terms and conditions and a statement of renewal terms if the contract is of a fixed length.

It's this automatic renewal that has caused most of the friction in stores' relationships with the suppliers. Under the new rules, your supplier will have to contact you a minimum of 30 calendar days before the last day you can cancel your contract with an explanation of the options available. They will have to give advice on what you should do to stop your contract from being rolled over onto a high-rate, long-term deal.

If you do miss the deadline, the maximum length of time your contract can be rolled over for will now be capped at 12 months.

Best of all, Ofgem has stopped the energy companies setting a narrow window in which you can inform them that you don't want to renew your contract.

Now you can give notice that you wish to terminate at the end of its fixed term at any point from when the contract is first agreed until the end of the notice period.

It's far from clear skies in the electricity supply industry, however. The suppliers are preparing to oppose Ofgem's plans to set the maximum amount distribution companies can charge for delivering electricity for the next five years.

EDF has already said it will challenge the figure. It says it needs to be able to charge more in order to invest in new technology which will make it easier to predict demand and therefore reduce costs.

Taking your customers' money so you can help save it if only we could all learn a trick like that one.

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