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The big six — six degrees of energy news

With around 90% of UK households under their belts, it's no wonder the big six are often making headlines

average energy bill

The big six have been accused of overcharging customers

Big six won’t be broken up by CMA

In the weeks leading up to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) provisional findings, it had already become clear that the speculation of breaking up the big six to aid competition and cheaper energy tariffs was not going to come to fruition.

In the February update of the CMA’s 18 month long investigation (July 2014 — Dec 2015), then energy secretary, Ed Davey, confirmed that if the CMA were to suggest breaking up the big six he wouldn’t hesitate to act on it.

Splitting the big six would have meant separating the energy supply side of the business from the retail side, which sells to homes and business. Critics were championing this idea as a way to drive down prices and increase competition.

CMA criticises overcharging — consumers to blame too

In the CMA’s provisional findings, 12 months into their investigation of the British energy industry, it was revealed that supplier’s reluctance to offer cheaper tariffs is fuelled in part by consumers themselves.

By being “sticky customers”, people not looking for better deals elsewhere entices the big six to be less competitive.

The report also revealed how the big six were guilty of overcharging their customers the sum of £1.2bn collectively. Alongside the findings were a list of proposed remedies for the industry, including a price cap on tariffs.

British Gas respond to CMA findings

British Gas revealed that it had “concerns” over certain areas of the CMA findings; they acknowledged the proposed need for further competition in the British energy market, but suggested that the report wasn’t faultless.

The Telegraph reported that Centrica, owner of British Gas, had issues with the data that claimed the big six had been overcharging customers by £1.2bn (2009–2013).

Centrica admitted that their profit per household was £50, yet the CMA claiming this is the amount they overcharged by suggests the company operate without profit, which is transparently not the case.

SSE introduces the cheapest fixed plan days after CMA

Two days after the CMA investigation, SSE introduced a new 12 month fixed price tariff to the energy market, in what could look like a response to allegations of the big six overcharging.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at, was positive towards the new plan:

“Small suppliers have ruled the roost in the best buy tables over the last year, so this new deal could be the firing pistol for an industry price war.

“The Competition and Markets Authority reported just days ago that millions of customers are paying too much for their energy. Is today’s move by SSE designed to lay down the gauntlet to the other big suppliers to do more to help customers tackle high bills?”

QR codes on larger supplier’s bills — switching plans is easier

If a supplier has more than 50,000 customers, they are now required to have a QR code on their bills (paper or .pdf versions) containing the consumer’s information; this includes plan name, end date, and consumption amongst other variables.

This measure was introduced with the aim to make switching plans easier, as all that is necessary for a comparison is contained within the code — making deciphering bills for the correct information a thing of the past.

uSwitch can use this scanned code in the uSwitch iPhone app to give you instant and accurate comparison results tailored to you.

Co-operative urges big six to increase renewable energy in plans

Co-operative Energy has called upon the big six to be more responsive to customers and the type of energy they want to use.

The member-owned energy firm believes that consumers want a proportion of their energy to be from renewable resources, much in line with smaller suppliers.

Just 17% of electricity produced in the UK is generated from renewable sources including wind and solar. It is perceived that households still don’t have enough say in the type of energy they can buy from big six suppliers.