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BEN WILKINSON: Watchdog feels the heat as energy crisis deepens

Watchdog feels the heat: We need a sensible, long-term solution to the energy crisis, says BEN WILKINSON

The energy market has reached boiling point. Small suppliers are at risk of being incinerated by booming gas prices and the nation’s bills are about to blow.

The only saving grace in this sorry saga is perhaps that the energy price cap is working. Without it, bills for 15million households may have soared by as much as £500.

However, our guide today on protecting your pocket against the bill blitz is sadly only an exercise in damage limitation. 

It is now nigh on impossible to save money by switching energy tariff.

Price hike: Without the energy cap in place bills for 15m homes could soar by as much as £500

Yet there have long been troubling vulnerabilities in the industry. 

For years, minnow firms — sometimes based out of residential homes — have been able to attract hundreds of thousands of customers, simply by offering the cheapest deal on a comparison website.

Now, these suppliers, who buy energy by the day, can’t keep their promises. These small firms have been a worry for a while — once the market wobbles and wholesale prices rise, they crumble.

The nation’s healthy obsession with switching providers to get the best deal has inadvertently created a monster and we could soon be paying the price.

Competition is always good and small suppliers have helped to shake-up the energy market for the better. But the sector has been allowed to be infiltrated by nonsensical firms offering silly prices to make a quick buck.

It now shouldn’t be up to the taxpayer to bail out energy suppliers with terrible business models. Industry regulator Ofgem simply shouldn’t have allowed it to get this out of hand.

We now have the prospect of four million households losing their supplier, and having to battle to claw back any money accrued in credit.

For now, we can only hope the crisis passes without causing severe financial distress and killing the competition in the market.

In the meantime, the Government needs to step up and save us from what could be an unimaginably bad winter — because some people will not be able to afford a colossal hike to their bills.

We are already facing a tough winter, with the NHS under strain and the coronavirus pandemic still threatening to cause more chaos. 

It is now nigh on impossible to save money by switching energy tariff, due to the current crisis

It is now nigh on impossible to save money by switching energy tariff, due to the current crisis

The last thing we need is more pensioners becoming sick because they don’t have the money to heat their homes properly.

It’s an extraordinary situation, but the Government should have been better prepared. 

As a nation we’ve long been marching blinkered towards renewable power without enough concern as to how we might heat our homes when other supplies run dry.

Ministers must act fast to stop hard-up households being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter.

Whether it is to keep the Universal Credit £20 uplift in place, or boost the winter fuel payment, something needs to be done.

We need an urgent fix to this crisis and a sensible long-term solution to ensure it never happens again. For ministers and the energy regulator, the heat is on.

An audit of DWP accounts today reveals mistakes have denied retirees as much as £128,000

An audit of DWP accounts today reveals mistakes have denied retirees as much as £128,000

Held to account

An audit of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accounts today reveals that mistakes dating back to 1985 have denied retirees as much as £128,000. 

Tragically, more than 40,000 people short-changed have died in the past few years without having the state pension (and retirement) they were entitled to enjoy.

The report is a depressing insight into Government inefficiency and oversight. Staff at the DWP weren’t trained well enough to handle complex cases, and computer systems weren’t up to the job, either.

Yet the audit also reveals that mistakes continued to be made even after the problem had been identified early last year. The National Audit Office found errors in as many as one in seven cases reviewed by staff.

And, as we reported last week, there is now a huge logjam of backed-up new pension claims at the DWP.

Without a serious shake-up, the department is sure to keep making the same mistakes. It’s a travesty when we cannot trust the Government with our pension pay.