Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2:36 pm, 6th March 2018

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The statutory instrument that will allow that data sharing will be tabled shortly, before this Bill, which we hope will make rapid progress, receives Royal Assent. She is absolutely right.

I was explaining that the original RPI minus X model, which required annual reductions in prices by incumbents, was followed around the world, but with new developments in technology and practice, it is vital to keep our regulatory system up-to-date. In recent years, it has become more and more possible for suppliers to have extensive information on the habits and behaviour of individual consumers—often more information than the consumers know about their own habits, which are studied so minutely. Incumbent suppliers can identify which of their consumers do not respond to higher prices and instead display loyalty to what they might think of as a long-standing and trusted supplier. They can then penalise those customers with ever higher prices.

The CMA identified the problem and recommended that certain consumers, those on prepayment meters, should be protected from such pricing behaviour. It also recommended measures to drive up the rates of switching. The roll-out of smart meters in particular can make information that is currently only available to the incumbent supplier available to other potential suppliers, with the customer’s permission, which is what everyone wants to be able to drive up competition.

In its report, the CMA was in two minds about whether that action was sufficient, and a minority report thought that such remedies, including smart meters, would not come soon enough to eradicate this detriment quickly enough. The minority report said:

“The harm which is presently inflicted on households…is very severe…the remedies proposed for the large majority of households will take some time to come into effect. That is why…they must be supplemented by a wider price control designed to give household customers adequate and timely protection from very high current levels of overcharging”.