* Prime Minister Cameron announces move to parliament
* Government to use legislation to help energy consumers
* More details to be published later this year
By Tim Castle
LONDON, Oct 17 Britain will introduce laws to
make energy suppliers give customers the cheapest tariffs, in a
fresh attempt to drive down prices for consumers, Prime Minister
David Cameron said on Wednesday.
Cameron made the announcement, without giving further
details, after a number of energy companies said in recent days
they were raising retail gas and electricity prices.
"I can announce that we will be legislating so that energy
companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers,"
Cameron told parliament during his weekly question and answer
Officials said the government would issue further
information on the measures nearer the publication of an Energy
Bill containing the legislation later this year.
The aim was to make sure more customers took advantage of
the best available tariffs offered by energy suppliers, the
At present just 15 percent of British households switch
supplier in search of better rates, leading to concern that many
consumers, including the most vulnerable, were paying too much.
"We will talk to companies and others about the details, and
precisely how we put this into law, but the objective is very
clear," Cameron's spokesman said.
However, the limited information available led one consumer
group, uSwitch, which runs a comparison website, to say the
policy would actually disadvantage consumers.
"This has to be a mistake - the unintended consequences
would be to kill competition," said Anne Robinson, director of
consumer policy at uSwitch.
"Consumers will be left with Hobson's choice - there will be
no spur, no choice, no innovation and no reason for consumers to
engage any more," Robinson said.
A Department of Energy (DECC) spokesman said the government
had no intention of ending competition and was looking "at all
options" to help consumers get the best tariff, which not might
necessarily be the cheapest.
Some households might not want to pay their bills by
automatic direct debit to their banks - often the cheapest
option - or would want to take energy only from green sources,
the spokesman added.
There have been repeated attempts by successive governments
to use competition between suppliers to restrain prices.
In April, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that
energy firms would be required to contact consumers once a year
with details of the best tariff on offer.
However, this had failed to encourage more than a small
proportion of consumers to switch supplier and the government
had decided to take firmer action, a spokesman for Cameron said.
"We need to place more obligation on the companies. At the
moment, everything is down to the consumer, and it is up to the
consumer to access and find the best deal," Cameron's spokesman
"We feel we need to go further and make the energy companies
responsible for making this happen," he added.
Energy UK, Britain's energy industry trade association, said
it was too early to tell what the impact of the legislation
would be on its members, which include all of the country's
so-called big six energy providers.
Utility SSE said it hoped the government's
announcement heralded an end to differential pricing, which it
said some rivals practiced.
"For too long some companies have undercharged, in
particular, customers who sign up online, at the expense of
those without access to the internet," SSE said in a statement
The country's largest natural gas supplier, British Gas, was
not immediately available for comment.
Consumer group Which? said Cameron's announcement was a sign
that the prime minister acknowledged that competition in
Britain's energy retail market "had failed".
"This is a big moment for consumers," said Which? executive
director, Richard Lloyd, who wrote to Cameron on Wednesday
demanding an independent review of the energy market.