Consumer trust in the energy industry hits new low

After the recent round of inflation busting price rises, new Which? research reveals that consumer trust in the energy industry has plummeted to a new low, while record numbers of people say they are very worried about rising energy prices.

The latest findings from our Consumer Insight Tracker show that consumer trust in the energy industry has fallen to its lowest level since the Tracker launched in July 2012.  Only one in seven consumers (15%) say they trust energy companies to act in their best interest, down from one in four (27%) before the price rises.  Six in ten (59%) say they lack trust in energy companies, making energy the most distrusted of all consumer industry sectors, lower than banking (33%), car salesmen (55%) and train companies (27%).

We also found that energy is now top of the list of consumer worries and for the first time more than half (51%) say they are very worried about energy prices. Overall eight in ten (84%) consumers are worried about energy prices, the highest this has been since October last year.

An additional Which? survey carried out for tomorrow’s Channel Four Dispatches programme, “Energy Bills Exposed”, reveals the extent to which consumers are struggling to cope with their energy bills.  We found seven in ten (69%) energy bill payers cut back on how much heating they use to keep costs down and almost half (43%) are worried about getting into debt as a result of rising energy prices.  A quarter (24%) say they have taken money out of savings to pay for a bill in the last year.

Which? thinks that the Chancellor should stand up for consumers when he stands up in the House of Commons to deliver this year’s Autumn Statement on the 4th December.

We’re calling on George Osborne to:

  • Cut the Big Six down to size to get more competition into the energy market and;
  • Cut the cost of Government energy policies

We have made recommendations to the Chancellor that we believe will improve competition in the market and control the costs being added to consumers’ bills, while still ensuring the same number of households are helped to better insulate their homes.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:

“The number of people worrying about energy prices has rocketed, while trust in the companies has plummeted.

“What we have heard from the Government so far is too little, and too late, for the millions of hard pressed consumers worrying how they will pay for their energy bills this winter. Consumers need to see radical changes now.

“George Osborne should use his Autumn Statement to cut the Big Six down to size by separating the wholesale energy market from domestic supply, and by cutting the cost of Government energy policies to consumers.”

Notes to editors:

1.    Methodology for the Consumer Insight Tracker: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 2115 UK adults online between 25th and 27th October 2013.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

2.    Methodology for the survey for Channel Four’s Dispatches programme: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 2064 UK adults online between 2nd and 3rd October 2013.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. These results focus on those who have sole or joint responsibility for paying an energy bill, a sample of 1834 consumers. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

3.    You can find more information on the detail of our energy campaign “Cut them down, George” here

4.    The Dispatches “Energy Bills Exposed” programme exploring the energy industry will be broadcast on Monday 4th November at 8pm on Channel Four, find out more at: www.channel4.com/dispatches.  Additional findings from the survey revealed:

·    6 in 10 (61%) consumers say they don’t trust energy companies to charge a fair price

·    9 in 10 (91%) consumers are likely to blame recent price rises on energy companies increasing their profits – more than half (54%) blame profits to a great extent

·    8 in 10 (80%) energy consumers agree that energy companies prioritise making profit over serving their customers

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