Calls for energy bill cuts amid SSE profits surge

SSE saw profits surge at its domestic supply arm. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
SSE saw profits surge at its domestic supply arm. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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SSE, the Perth-based utility giant, has stoked anger after reporting a surge in profits at the division that supplies household customers.

The group stressed that it was now two years since its core customer base last experienced a price increase, as it unveiled interim operating profits of £101.5 million at its retail arm – almost three times the figure of £37.3m reported for the same period a year ago.

SSE pointed to a better performance in the industrial and commercial sector, lower-than-average temperatures leading to an increase in gas consumption, and reduced operating costs.

It told investors yesterday: “Profit in energy supply is naturally volatile and SSE continues to expect domestic energy supply profit to fall during full-year 2015-16 as a whole following its reduction in household gas prices in Great Britain in April 2015.

“It is now two years since SSE’s standard household customers in Great Britain last experienced a price increase and SSE is 19 months into a 27-month price freeze commitment.

“Guaranteeing such unprecedented price stability and peace of mind for customers would not have been possible without taking a responsible, longer-term approach to managing all its costs; however SSE has reduced prices during this period and continues to do all it can to keep prices competitive as well as stable.”

However, uSwitch consumer policy director Ann Robinson claimed the results provided “yet more evidence” that energy suppliers were benefiting from lower wholesale prices, and called on SSE to make more substantial price cuts.

She said: “Consumers are not cash cows. It is simply unacceptable that, while SSE is set to make healthy profits, many of its customers are fearing sky-high energy bills this winter.

“Wholesale prices remain at record lows, yet SSE has made only one cut to its standard gas tariff this year.

“It is high time for some decent, double-digit price cuts from all suppliers to both standard gas and electricity tariffs to ease the pain of exorbitant bills.”

The jump in retail earnings emerged as the group said overall adjusted pre-tax profits leapt by 48.2 per cent to £548.8m in the six months to 30 September.

Shareholders will receive a 1.1 per cent increase in the interim dividend to 26.9p, to be paid on 18 March. The firm – Britain’s second-biggest energy supplier – once again stressed that its first financial objective was to increase annually the dividend payable to shareholders by at least the rate of retail price inflation.

The latest results also revealed that investment and capital expenditure increased by 11.5 per cent, year-on-year, to £757.3m.

Richard Gillingwater, who recently succeeded Lord Smith of Kelvin as chairman, said: “I am confident that the foundations are well-laid and that SSE can continue to deliver for all of its customers and be a strong and sustainable long-term investment for shareholders.”