The heat is on

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THE wild fluctuations in energy prices are making life even more difficult for those struggling through the financial crisis, and the Government must now take swift and decisive action.

Millions of British Gas customers are facing a bleak winter after the company announced an inflation-busting 18 per cent hike in gas charges, and 16 per cent rise in electricity bills, at a time when increases in household incomes are minimal.

It is the second of the “big six” companies to put up prices dramatically and others are expected to follow. The company made its announcement yesterday, just as the Prime Minister held a press conference about the phone hacking scandal. Cynics would suggest this was a calculated move to try to bury bad news. However, consumers, and particularly those of a plain-speaking disposition, will see through this, and with justification.

Invariably, their views are the last to be considered. With only a month’s notice before the extra costs come into effect, there is little time for householders to shop around for alternatives.

Equally frustrating, the companies that have yet to announce price changes are not compelled to give significant notice of their plans, another loophole that makes it difficult for householders to switch suppliers.

Serious questions need to be asked – again – about this complete lack of transparency and it is time the regulator, Ofgem, and the Government, step up and answer them. While there are clearly global factors at work, it is also apparent that much more could be done to warn customers of likely changes.

The Government has policies in the pipeline to try to introduce fuel stabilisers to ease the concerns of motorists. Could this be extended to all vital energy resources? It is a question that needs answering, and preferably before the winter.