A British trade body which represents local shops is outraged after Ed Davey appeared to “dismiss” its concerns about the predatory behaviour of energy suppliers towards its members.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) which is the voice for 33,500 convenience retailers including some Spar, Costcutter and Budgens shops spoke out after the Energy Secretary seemed to suggest local stores could look after themselves.
The ACS wants the Government to bring in rules to stop local shops and other small businesses being taken advantage of by energy companies, for example with rolled over contracts and so-called ‘back bills’.
If energy firms haven’t charged their customers enough or find a meter in a property which the customer wasn’t aware of, they can charge businesses these back bills for six years in the past, unlike households which can only be charged for 1 year ago.
The ACS says it wrote to the Energy Secretary with its concerns but says his letter in response “refused to acknowledge the concerns of small businesses – claiming that businesses ‘can look after their own interests’.”
James Lowman, the trade body’s Chief Executive said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Energy Secretary dismisses our concerns when there are so many shops and other small businesses that are being exploited by energy companies.”
The ACS cites the example of one member Jonathan James, a shopkeeper in Cambridgeshire, who was hit by a back-dated demand for £35,000 from an energy supplier who claimed that it had undercharged him for four years. Mr James received the demand after he had switched to a new supplier.
DECC denied the Energy Secretary’s response was not in keeping with its big move to back consumers and said it is up to Ofgem to consider protecting small businesses.
It said in a statement: “Non-domestic customers should also benefit from having the flexibility to negotiate contractual terms that suit their individual circumstances.
It is for Ofgem, as the independent regulator for gas and electricity markets, to consider whether further regulatory protection is required in the non-domestic supply sector.
Ofgem are currently considering proposals to extend these rules to small business customers, as part of their Retail Market Reforms.”
DECC said the regulator is expecting to bring forward further proposals early next year.