The six leading energy suppliers in the UK – British Gas, E.On, Npower, Scottish Power, EDF and Southern & Scottish Energy – have been targeted by the Fuel Poverty Action Group amid growing concerns over domestic fuel bills.
The organisation staged several so-called ‘Winter Warm-Up’ protests outside offices belonging to the firms, which are accused of profiteering at a time when millions of Britons are being forced to choose between food and warmth.
The Winter Warm-Ups have arrived at a particularly opportune moment, as Britain braces itself for what the Met Office has promised to be the coldest week of the winter thus far. So what better way to encourage the big six energy firms to lower their tariffs than to stand out in the cold holding placards and banners over the weekend?
If the protesters wanted to be noticed they perhaps ought to have organised the demonstrations during weekdays, but no doubt their point has been made.
The organisation’s Elizabeth Ziga explained: “We want to challenge the big six energy companies, which control 99 per cent of the energy industry and make record profits off our rising bills”.
Ziga makes an excellent point, of course, but what can be done?
British Gas made a record profit of £742 million in 2010 but is expected to announce current end-of-year profits in the region of £566 million. Despite cutting electricity prices by 4.5 per cent from the end of March, British Gas seized the opportunity to increase the cost of gas by 18 per cent and the price of electricity by 16 per cent in 2011. Since the summer of last year, however, wholesale gas and electricity prices have fallen by 31 per cent and 28 per cent respectively. Wholesale savings are not, therefore, being passed on to consumers.
British Gas claims to have lost as many as 1,800 customers per day since raising tariffs last year, but where can customers go? Short of generating their own energy, customers can only switch from one supplier to the next – and all the suppliers have been accused of profiteering. Households can reduce their reliance on the suppliers to an extent by installing solar photovoltaic panels, double glazing, loft and cavity wall insulation and smart meters.