Can’t switch, won’t switchby Daniel Walker-Nolan / November 3, 2015 / Leave a comment
Next April the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will publish long-awaited findings from its comprehensive energy market review. After over a year of evidence gathering and hearings, it recently put forward preliminary recommendations that included regulating prices paid by disengaged consumers. Large suppliers rallied against the approach on the grounds it was anti-competitive and too all encompassing, threatening as it does to fix prices charged for up to 70 per cent of consumers.
Who Should We Safeguard?
Beyond the claim and counterclaim one thing is clear: policymakers are being forced to re-think what groups are winning and losing in our energy market. Since the introduction of retail competition, policies have assumed that giving people better information, and nudging them to shop around, would be enough to get people to switch. The failure of this approach to improve market participation (particularly among vulnerable groups), and the CMA’s proposed “safeguard tariff” signifies recognition that more radical approaches may be required to tackle detriment caused by the higher prices paid by “sticky” customers. Under the policy, consumers on their energy suppliers’ evergreen or standard variable tariff would be placed on a regulated tariff with headroom. This means that the cost would be mostly regulated but with some room to allow suppliers small differences in costs. The idea is to effectively cap the amount that inactive consumers can be charged for their energy, with restrictions to be lifted once the market has been cured of its current ills. With Citizens Advice analysis from July revealing that the average difference between suppliers’ cheapest fixed deal and their standard tariffs now stands at £176, and that the gap between the two has risen by a staggering 47 per cent in just the last three years, non-engagement evidently hits consumers where it hurts most—their pockets.
However, the CMA’s proposal only scratches the surface of this problem. We believe a more targeted, forensic approach is required to rebalance the market and ensure the most vulnerable non-switchers are able to afford the essential energy they need to live their lives. Whereas the CMA’s approach places all non-switchers into the same basket, making no judgement about whether prices paid have a material detriment on consumers’ health or wellbeing, our approach takes such factors into account. In instances where inactivity pushes consumers into fuel poverty, or where consumers in vulnerable situations are significantly…