Friday, November 14, 2008

UK - the complexity of bills

Consumer bills information warning

Consumers do not have enough good quality information to get the best deals for their gas, electricity and fixed phone lines, a committee of MPs said .

A recent survey found that a quarter of households who switched electricity suppliers ended up paying higher prices, and telecoms customers may well be having the same problem, said a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The committee's chairman Edward Leigh said that the removal of price controls on these services, as well as business postal services, was failing to deliver the expected competitive market pressures to benefit consumers.

Since retail price controls were removed by regulators Ofgem, Ofcom and Postcomm between 2002 and 2006, prices have risen by 60% in energy, but fallen in communications, the report said.

It warned that it was vulnerable people, like the poor and the elderly, who would benefit most from cheaper prices but are the most likely to have problems negotiating the system to find the best deal.

Mr Leigh said: "Where price controls have been removed from a market, suppliers are under pressure to keep their prices as low as possible and their service as good as possible by the ability of consumers to switch suppliers easily and effectively.

"In practice, however, the removal of price controls from energy, telecoms and business postal services has failed to generate the expected market pressures to the benefit of all consumers.

"Consumers simply do not have the kind of good quality information needed to get the best deals on price and service.

"It is very telling that, according to a National Audit Office survey, a quarter of electricity consumers who had switched supplier ended up paying higher prices. Recent Ofgem research indicates the proportion might be even higher. And telecoms customers could well be having the same problem.

"It is the poorer and older citizens who are least able and yet would benefit most from switching to a cheaper supplier. They have been exposed to huge increases in gas and electricity prices, far greater than in many other countries."

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