Energy suppliers ‘more hated than banks and lawyers’

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SMALL businesses hate their energy suppliers even more than their banks, lawyers or accountants because of rising prices and allegations of price-fixing, according to a survey published today.

Companies are now at an “energy tipping point” that will force them to change power suppliers, experts said.

Just 28 per cent of firms trust their energy supplier, compared with a third that trust their banks, 55 per cent their lawyers and 73 per cent their accountants.

Mark Moore, founder of advice website Ingenious Britain, which commissioned the survey, said: “Energy providers are losing the trust of their business customers, particularly SMEs.

“This research shows widespread malaise and discontent among business owners and managers across the UK.

“2012 was a bad year in terms of reputation for energy companies, with Libor-style pricing allegations in the news and the announcement of record high profits, so it’s no wonder the business community is frustrated.”

The Financial Services Authority launched an investigation in November after data compiler ICIS Heron accused the “big six” power companies of fixing gas price.

The allegations angered politicians, including Energy Secretary Ed Davey, as they came in the same week that Scottish Gas customers had been hit with a hike in prices. The scandal drew comparison with the Libor-fixing fraud that engulfed lenders including Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and Swiss giant UBS.

If the gas price-fixing allegations are found to be true then 88 per cent of small businesses said that compensation should be provided and 83 per cent said they would seek a claim.

Jonathan Elliott, managing director of price comparison website, added: “Whilst I don’t think we’re about to see a class action [lawsuit] launched, we do expect to see more businesses voting with their feet.

“The 53 per cent of businesses looking to switch in 2013 is higher than the 46 per cent that the regulator, Ofgem, has reported to have ever switched and so it looks like this will be the year that hard-pressed SMEs finally get even with their suppliers.”

News of the survey comes just weeks after the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) called for Ofgem to free companies from “onerous” long-term energy contracts.

Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, demanded an end to the energy suppliers’ practice of automatic rollovers, which lock into long-term contracts.