Ofgem’s long-awaited consultation into the business energy market has disappointed retailers by failing to include two of their biggest concerns.
Despite the energy regulators’ acknowledgment that “more protection was needed for smaller businesses,” the consultation ignores back-billing, which the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) would like to see limited to one year, and automatic contract rollovers.
Spar Sutton Coldfield retailer Jas Mtharu, who last year received a back-dated bill for £26,000 from British Gas, slammed Ofgem for the oversight. Jas spent a year fighting to get a refund, but said no business should have to go through what he did. “It’s a massive oversight that the consultation is not covering back-billing. Even though I managed to prove that British Gas was incorrectly billing me, it put the business under a lot of pressure.”
John Walker of South Road Stores in Sheffield was also last year hit with a massive back-dated bill. “I received a bill for £39,000 due to the fact that British Gas incorrectly read my meter for six years,” he said. “We managed to negotiate it down to £26,000, but they still hold all the cards. They also automatically rolled over our contract and put us onto a higher rate without telling us. The fact this consultation doesn’t deal with these two issues is scandalous.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said Ofgem needed to prioritise the issues that mattered to independent retailers. “Ofgem must take action to promote competition, fairness and support for small businesses,” he said.
On a positive note, the consultation does propose to widen the number of small businesses that benefit from its existing safeguards.
The consultation will be open until December 21 and submissions can be made at www.ofgem.gov.uk.
❝ The government should force energy companies to end back-billing and rollover contracts. The termination date of the contract should be printed on all bills. For too long companies have been able to fix prices in a monopolistic cartel. This needs to be addressed and barriers for new entrants into the market need to be more flexible.”
Belvedere Food & Wine, Kent
❝ The consultation won’t make much of a difference because they haven’t addressed the issues that matter. They should have asked what small businesses are concerned about. Unfortunately, retailers overlook small print when it comes to rollovers so need as much help as possible from suppliers, and that is not being provided.”
Singh’s Premier, Sheffield