Is Ofgem “failing consumers”?

Five questions answered on MPs criticism of Ofgem.

A group of MPs have come forward and said energy regulator Ofgem is “failing consumers”. We answer five questions on the MPs’ problem with Ofgem.

What exactly has Ofgem been criticised for and by whom?

 The Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) has written a report saying that the watchdog was "failing consumers by not taking all possible steps to improve openness".

They added that greater transparency over the profits made by the big six energy (E.On, SSE, British Gas, Npower, EDF and Scottish Power) companies is needed.

"Greater transparency is urgently needed to reassure consumers that high energy prices are not fuelling excessive profits," the committee said.
Adding that Ofgem had not fully implemented the recommendations of the accountants it commissioned to improve how energy companies report their profits.

What have Ofgem said?

Ofgem has responded by saying it made companies produce yearly financial statements, which they had then been reviewed by accountants.

"Ofgem has made energy companies produce yearly financial statements, which have been reviewed twice by independent accountants and found to be fit for purpose," Ofgem's senior partner for markets, Rachel Fletcher, told the BBC.

However, Ofgem did admit that energy companies have been poor when it comes to communicating with customers.

So, what’s the problem with this?

The committee say forensic accountants are needed to properly understand these accounts and work out the correct profit, because the companies have different divisions to deal with different functions of their business and these often buy and sell services and energy from each other. This makes it difficult to determine how much profit is actually being made.

"Ofgem needs to use its teeth a bit more and force the energy companies to do everything they can to prove that they are squeaky clean when it comes to making and reporting their profits," said committee member John Robertson.

What have the independent experts said?

"We want the government to introduce simple energy pricing and a clear ring-fence between generation and supply businesses, so consumers can see exactly what they're paying for and be more confident that there is effective competition in the energy market," Which? executive director Richard Lloyd told the BBC.  

Angela Knight, the chief executive of Energy UK, a body which represents energy companies, said she thinks companies have come a long way on transparency.

"Energy companies all publish annual accounts and, in addition, both the generation and supply parts of the business provide Ofgem with all the information about revenues, costs and profits for which the regulator asks," she told the BBC.

What else did the committee say?

They also reprimanded the government for not helping poorer families with their energy bills more. Adding that using levies on fuel bills to raise funds for social and environmental programmes may end up hitting those on low incomes.

Ofgem has been criticised. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496