Groups demand energy market probe

File photo dated 18/01/12 of a gas hob as more than half of UK adults say they will have to cut their spending to cope with rising household bills over the next year, Citizens Advice has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday January 27, 2014. Three in five people (58%) are worried about the effect that higher bills will have on their finances and 53% - or 27 million - will have to cut spending to cope, according to a study by the consumer body. It is launching the Big Energy Saving Week today, backed by Government, charities and the energy industry, to help consumers take practical steps to make cuts to their bills. A survey found that of those who plan on cutting their spending, 59% say they will have to reduce the amount they spend on food, 37% will look for ways to reduce their energy bills, 8% will consider moving to a cheaper home and 66% say they will have less to spend on time out with family and friends. See PA story CONSUMER Bills. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%Regulators are being urged to launch an investigation into the energy market amid fresh claims that it is "broken".

Consumer group Which? and the Federation of Small Business (FSB) have written a joint letter to the Office of Fair Trading, Ofgem and the Competition and Markets Authority, saying that competition needed to be increased.
The groups said nine in 10 consumers believed the energy market should be referred for further investigation, while seven in 10 are worried about energy prices and only one in five trusted energy companies.

The big six gas and electricity suppliers are expected to hear soon, possibly later this week, whether there is to be a full competition inquiry into the energy industry.

The financial, energy and consumer regulators have been reviewing the working of the market for the past three months and are expected to publish a final report within days.

There is speculation that the report could trigger a full competition inquiry.

Which? and the FSB said in their letter that ever rising energy bills were a "major concern" for small businesses.

"It is clear that the energy market is broken and urgently needs fixing. Top of our concerns is the need to increase competition and to make trading transparent.

"For too long the lack of competition in the energy market has not been addressed. It is now time for radical changes that deliver an effective, competitive market that works for everyone, before
the scale of this crisis worsens.

"We all want to see a transparent market where consumers and businesses alike can understand their bills, compare prices and switch easily.

"We want to see the presence of strong competition right across the industry drive affordable pricing that gives everyone the confidence they are paying a fair price for their energy," said the letter.

Caroline Flint, shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: "Rising energy bills are causing a cost-of-living crisis.

"Consumers need to be confident that the energy market works for them and the prices they pay are fair. Anything which can help shine a light on the workings of the energy market is welcome.

"But consumers will be rightly disappointed if the Government uses this review as an excuse to kick the problem of rip-off energy bills into the long grass. We have hardly been short of reviews of the energy market in recent years - but what has been missing is decisive action to protect consumers.

"The next Labour government will undertake the biggest overhaul of our energy market since privatisation.

"Our plans will break up the big energy companies, put an end to their secret deals and make tariffs simpler and fairer. And until these reforms kick in, we will put a stop to unfair price rises by freezing energy bills until 2017, saving the average household £120."

A spokesman for Energy UK said: "The energy industry supports competition. The increasing number of companies looking to supply energy, allied to the numbers of customers switching and choosing smaller suppliers, shows that the market is active and working in the interests of customers."

10 simple ways to keep your house warm this winter
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Groups demand energy market probe
Of course you should make sure the doors and windows are shut properly, but you should also check each one for draughts too. A good old fashioned draught-excluder will stop the wind whipping under the doors, and draught-proofing strips around doors and windows should see off the worst of the chills.
It's not the kind of DIY job that anyone loves, but a quarter of the heat in your home is lost through the roof, so it makes a big difference. Once you've insulated the loft, the roof space will be colder, so make sure you have insulated any water pipes and tanks, and draught-proofed the loft hatch.
If you have thicker curtains, ideally with a thermal lining, you're likely to lose 25% less heat through the window. It's also worth considering curtains over external doors, to prevent heat from escaping. However, make sure you draw them back during the day to make use of any glimmers of sunshine we get.
If you don't have a working chimney but you do have an open fire, then you'll be losing heat through the chimney. If you place a chimney balloon in the chimney and inflate it, it will trap the warm air in.
If you stick the sofa in front of the radiator you'll waste a fortune keeping the back of the sofa warm.
Many people will remember elderly relatives applying tinfoil in a hap-hazard manner years ago, but it doesn't have to be noticeable, and will reflect half the heat back into the room.
Bare, varnished floorboards have been popular for a while, but unless they are carefully filled and draught-proofed, you can lose 10% of your heat through the floor. If filling the floorboards is impractical, a carpet may be a simple solution.
There's no point in heating any rooms you don't use, so turn off radiators in unused rooms, and heat the rooms you tend to occupy instead. Once the spare room gets chilly, you'll need to keep the door closed, and use a draught-excluder to stop the chill spreading.
If your kitchen is the heart of the home you don't need the house so warm during dinner time, because you can use the warmth of the oven to keep you all toasty. Get some baked potatoes in the oven, some soup on the hob, and no-one will notice the rest of the house has grown a little cooler.
It may seem a bit Victorian, but having a woodburner in the fireplace allows you to burn a cheap fuel, and enjoy the heat without the smoke. Burning wood costs less than gas and two thirds less than electricity, so you can stay toasty for less.

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