PRESS RELEASE: Parliamentary debate – Switching is no solution to exploitative energy prices

Tomorrow Thursday 16 March Parliament will debate a cross-party motion which states that the House

deplores the big six energy firms’ treatment of out-of-contract energy customers on default tariffs; believes immediate action is needed to protect these consumers, and that pushing customers to start switching will not fix the problem sufficiently quickly or completely on its own; and calls on the industry, regulators and the Government to consider solutions which recognise that many people lead busy lives where switching their energy supplier may not always be a high priority.”
Fuel Poverty Action has written to selected MPs, urging them to press the motion to a vote.  The letter says, 
This debate is a chance for Parliament to finally acknowledge that mass switching is not the solution to extortionate energy prices.  Experts are frustrated and baffled that customers don’t “engage” with the market.  But millions of us see the whole thing as a distraction and a con.  Many refuse to spend precious hours, on a procedure that for most of us is not simple, only to see the price comparison change a few months later.  And if loads of us switched, the market would simply “adjust” with higher prices for all.
We can also expect to see it adjust if the government goes for a “relative price cap” limiting the worst tariffs to a percentage higher than the best, as advocated by Conservative ex-minister John Penrose, one of the three MPs sponsoring this cross-party debate . The lowest tariffs would go up, and would bring the cap up with them – more of the cat and mouse game with consumers we’ve been seeing for years.
We cannot accept the arguments offered against a cap that could save lives.  We are told that a cap would have a chilling effect on competition – as if protecting competition were a higher priority than protecting lives.  A cap would be a minimum, not a maximum.  There is nothing to stop any supplier from offering tariffs well below the cap, and advertising that they have done so.  We are also told that an absolute cap, as opposed to a relative one, would make the market slower to respond to change.  But so far, it has responded quickly to any hint of rising wholesale prices, and with the speed of a tortoise when wholesale prices go down.  And there cannot be any credibility in charges of “interference” with the market when the market has exploited so many for so long.
Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action comments:
“It’s about time the government admitted that most customers have our work cut out just surviving and do not have time to spend endlessly switching back and forth between exploitative energy giants.
“Energy is too important to be governed by the market, it should be controlled by the people who use it and the workers who provide it.  In the meantime, there should urgently be a cap on prices, at a level that does not leave thousands dying in cold homes every winter.  We also need good insulation, efficient boilers, renewable power, and communal heating systems that do not cost the earth.  Instead, energy efficiency measures, and support for renewables have been savagely cut – as have the wages and welfare benefits that many fuel poor people depend on if they are not to freeze.”
District Heating:
We are also asking MPs to raise the plight of customers of malfunctioning district heating systems who are trapped in long contracts and would be outside any cap as the heat industry remains unregulated.  Heat network customers are available for interview.