Britain's big six energy companies will face fines unless they open up the electricity market to competition from smaller independent rivals, under proposals by the regulator.
Ofgem outlined a series of measures designed to "break the stranglehold" of the six firms which dominate the UK market, and push down prices for hard-pressed households.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the Government was ready to bring in new laws should the new measures be "delayed or frustrated".
The regulator says it wants to create a more level playing field for independent rivals to buy and sell power. Smaller suppliers include the likes of Co-operative Energy, Ecotricity, Ebico and First Utility.
Under its plan the big six - British Gas, EDF, E.ON, NPower, Scottish Power and SSE - cannot refuse any reasonable requests from small suppliers to buy electricity. They have also been told they must sell power to the smaller companies at a fair price and negotiate fairly at all times. The big companies will be given deadlines for acknowledging and responding to requests.
Ofgem said the rules would also apply to the largest independent power generators, Drax Power and GDF Suez.
In addition, the big six companies will have to post prices at which they will buy and sell power for up to two years in advance. The regulator said that while the major companies were selling at least 30% of their output in the market for short-term energy use, there was still not enough trading of power for use in the "forward market" dealing with energy use further ahead.
An obligation to post prices at which they buy power two years in advance would "make it far easier for independent suppliers to buy power for their customers", Ofgem said. The proposals come ahead of a statutory consultation this autumn, with the changes expected to come into effect next year.
Andrew Wright, senior partner for markets at Ofgem, said: "Ofgem's proposals will break the stranglehold of the big six in the retail market and create a more level playing field for independent suppliers, who will get a fair deal when they want to buy and sell power up to two years ahead."
Mr Davey said: "I encourage companies to work with Ofgem to implement these proposals as swiftly as possible. Government stands ready to use the Energy Bill to take necessary measures to improve energy market liquidity should Ofgem's proposals be delayed or frustrated."
10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs
Energy firms 'must open up market'
Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.
To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.
Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.
At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.
It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.
With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.
No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.
Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.
Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.
While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.
Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.
However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.
However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.
Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.
Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.