Utilities watchdog demanded by small firms

Small companies believe there should be a dedicated watchdog for utilities, research from the Forum of Private Business (FPB) finds.

A poll of the group’s 1,700 members reveals almost three-quarters have experienced problems with their utilities suppliers, with 59 per cent finding these issues have worsened over the past six months.

Furthermore, 86 per cent believe these problems will increase over the coming months, leading three-fifths to call for a dedicated watchdog to mediate between small companies and their utilities providers.

Small business owners cite the uncompetitive market for utilities, roll-over contracts that tie them into unfavourable deals, lack of faith in complaints processes and doubts in regulators Ofwat and Ofgem as being the root of their problems.

Colin Beake, the FPB’s adviser on utilities, explains: ‘It’s about time that the whole thing was overhauled to give small businesses better protection.’

The group also says Consumer Focus, which was formed in September 2008 when Energywatch, the National Consumer Council and Postwatch merged, should provide small businesses with the same protection it offers domestic customers.

However, Jonathan Smith, public and media relations manager for electricity provider E.ON, comments that Energywatch was dissolved because its job as a specialist watchdog was complete, adding that he does not see why small businesses are revisiting the issue.

When the new organisation was formed, the FPB claimed that small firms could suffer from worsening treatment by utilities suppliers and said their concerns should be a priority of Consumer Focus.

Small business owners call for transparency from utilities providers

Small business owners want greater protection from utilities providers rolling over their contracts without their knowledge, new research by the Forum of Private Business finds.

Almost all (96 per cent) of the 6,000 members surveyed want such protection from their energy suppliers.

The report also found that 69 per cent believe it is difficult to keep track of contract anniversaries. In order to plan ahead and avoid being rolled over onto another contract, 73 per cent of those surveyed want a reminder of the contract end date added to their bills.

Business owners raised concerns that utilities staff can appear reluctant to provide information about contract dates.

Micro businesses (those with fewer than 10 staff) are currently afforded greater protection than other small firms. Regulator Ofgem’s utilities licensing condition 7A means micro businesses can only be rolled over for one year.

The Forum’s chief executive Phil Orford calls for better protection to stop the erosion of service provided by utilities companies to commercial customers.

‘At the very least, protections that have been introduced for micro businesses should apply to all small businesses,’ he says.

Related Topics