Energy secretary Edward Davey has sparked outrage among small store owners after stating that they did not need the same levels of protection from the big energy companys’ bull-boy tactics as consumers.
In a letter to the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) seen by Convenience Store, Davey said that business customers could “look after their own interests, and that the protection available to domestic customers is therefore not required”.
Davey’s letter was sent in response to ACS concerns over the recent exclusion of business customers from an agreement with energy companies to provide customers with clear information on the best energy tariffs available to them.
Responding to Davey’s comments in a further letter, ACS chief executive James Lowman said that many small businesses had “no greater expertise or resource on energy issues than domestic customers”.
Lowman also drew Davey’s attention to the results of a recent ACS survey of independent retailers which showed that 28% had experienced a lack of clear help or guidance on suitable energy tariffs, 36% had experienced overcharging, and 88% believed further regulation of suppliers was needed.
A large number of ACS members have been the victim of bullying tactics and costly errors by energy companies over the years, including Merseyside retailer Adrian Costain who had his electricity contracts rolled over to twice the previous rate when a termination notice was lost.
Cambridgeshire retailer, and ACS chairman Jonathan James, was also hit by a back-dated demand for £35,000 from an energy supplier who claimed that it had undercharged him for four years.
The ACS is currently working closely with regulator Ofgem to ensure that its Retail Market Review specifically recognises the particular needs of small business customers in the energy market.
“By suggesting that businesses do not need this support, you are running counter to Ofgem’s current approach, and are neglecting the needs of businesses struggling to survive and grow in a double-dip recession,” Lowman told Davey. The ACS has requested a meeting with the energy secretary to further discuss the issue.