Utilities watchdog demanded by small firms

Small companies believe there should be a dedicated watchdog for utilities, research from the Forum of Private Business (FPB) finds.

A poll of the group’s 1,700 members reveals almost three-quarters have experienced problems with their utilities suppliers, with 59 per cent finding these issues have worsened over the past six months.

Furthermore, 86 per cent believe these problems will increase over the coming months, leading three-fifths to call for a dedicated watchdog to mediate between small companies and their utilities providers.

Small business owners cite the uncompetitive market for utilities, roll-over contracts that tie them into unfavourable deals, lack of faith in complaints processes and doubts in regulators Ofwat and Ofgem as being the root of their problems.

Colin Beake, the FPB’s adviser on utilities, explains: ‘It’s about time that the whole thing was overhauled to give small businesses better protection.’

The group also says Consumer Focus, which was formed in September 2008 when Energywatch, the National Consumer Council and Postwatch merged, should provide small businesses with the same protection it offers domestic customers.

However, Jonathan Smith, public and media relations manager for electricity provider E.ON, comments that Energywatch was dissolved because its job as a specialist watchdog was complete, adding that he does not see why small businesses are revisiting the issue.

When the new organisation was formed, the FPB claimed that small firms could suffer from worsening treatment by utilities suppliers and said their concerns should be a priority of Consumer Focus.

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