Utilities watchdog slams consumer councils plan

Government plans to set up a “super consumer council” to handle complaints about gas and electricity companies have been slammed by a top consumer watchdog.

Yvonne Constance, who heads the Electricity Consumers’ Committees, funded by electricity regulator Offer, says the plans will “lead to the loss of an independent consumer voice in the regions” around the UK.

The plans for a series of national councils covering energy, water and telecoms and broadcasting were outlined by energy and industry minister John Battle at the end of last month (MW October 8). He said the bodies would be “powerful consumer advocates at the heart of the regulatory system.”

But Constance says if the bodies are set up as national councils, they will be unable to deal with local problems, which is particularly relevant in electricity supply, which is dominated by regional companies. She says: “It is quite extraordinary to have six people in a national council – to focus so much on one tiny group.”

She says setting up a national council separate from the energy regulator could mean local consumers’ complaints are not dealt with adequately. The body would not have the power to call regional electricity companies to account.

The plans are part of a regulatory shake-up which will lead to the merger of Ofgas, headed by Clare Spottiswoode, and Offer, headed by Stephen Littlechild.

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