The Daily Telegraph

Watchdog to step in as energy firms close door to new customers

- By Rachel Mortimer and Alexa Phillips

THE energy watchdog has threatened to intervene if power companies turn away new customers, after it emerged that the biggest suppliers were deterring households from switching.

British Gas, EDF, E.ON, Ovo Energy and Scottish Power are refusing to quote households for new deals online. They blame high energy prices and the volatile market, which can leave companies exposed to large losses if prices move against them.

British Gas and Ovo Energy said potential new customers should stick with their suppliers, advice endorsed by most financial experts.

However, their refusal to issue quotes means that people moving house may struggle to get a deal at their new home.

Ofgem requires suppliers to accept new customers but there is no explicit requiremen­t that they be allowed to sign up online.

However, Ofgem does require suppliers to enable customers to compare tariffs easily. Ovo Energy was the only supplier to tell consumers that they could call in by phone to discuss tariffs after it blocked online applicatio­ns.

An Ofgem spokesman said: “We expect licensed energy suppliers to take on new customers when approached by them, and to ensure their connection­s are appropriat­ely metered. Where this is not being done, we will engage with suppliers to ensure compliance.”

A spokesman for EDF said households could switch by phone but the firm’s website does not confirm that.

An E.ON spokesman said: “With energy prices at a record high, it is recommende­d that customers stay with their existing supplier. However, customers can sign up to receive an alert as soon as we are in a position to offer competitiv­e fixed-price tariffs for new customers, or [they] can call us to discuss their tariff.”

British Gas, Ovo Energy and Scottish Power did not respond to requests for comment.

Scrutiny of energy suppliers comes as Britain is gripped by the worst cost of living crisis in decades, partly caused by the rising price of gas and electricit­y. Though Liz Truss, the Prime Minister, has said average household energy bills will not rise above £2,500 per year, millions are struggling with the cost of living

The energy market has been in flux after competitiv­e, fixed-rate tariffs disappeare­d from the market amid soaring wholesale prices. Meanwhile, the price cap on variable rate tariffs has surged.

It was to rise to £3,549 for the average household on a default tariff in October, before ministers issued a guarantee it would stay at £2,500 for the next two years.

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