Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury 5:06 pm, 6th March 2018

I agree that transparency is key, but I do not think that the price rises would have been hidden in the period between 2003 and 2007. Ordinary consumers would have seen—as we all did—what was happening in their bills at that time. I also agree that evidence-based policy making is the best way forward. In instituting the CMA review, David Cameron was not kicking the matter into the long grass; he was getting the evidence that proved that consumers have had a detriment of £1.4 billion. This is the action that is coming out of that inquiry, which reported in 2016. It is right that we are taking action. Which? shows that energy prices topped the list of consumer worries— 64% of consumers were worried about their energy prices. I find it puzzling that switching rates are so low—only 18%—given the way that consumers worry about their bills.

On the Select Committee, it was very shocking to hear the high numbers of people on the standard variable tariffs. Some companies had more than 80% of their customers on standard variable tariffs, which is simply unacceptable. It is that predatory pricing by companies where they are using those so-called sticky customers on the higher rates to offer switching rates that new entrants to the market cannot compete with and are therefore squeezed out. The Bill will address that practice, and I welcome that.

There is another area where we need to act. I follow on from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran in saying that switching is biased towards the A, B and C1 social groupings. Some 29% of those earning over £16,000 have never switched, but this figure rises to 39% among those who earn less than £16,000. As others have said, if people are not switching, they are not able to access the best deals. This cap is needed to protect those on the lowest incomes, but we must also encourage people in those groups to take advantage of the market. They can do so through Citizens Advice. Many libraries have computers that people can use to look up deals on the internet. It is important that, as well as the cap, the Government look at how they can reach out to the more disadvantaged social groups—groups D and E—that have never switched and at how they can take advantage of the market.