Small Businesses are Trapped with High Energy Prices

Small firms across the UK are calling on energy suppliers to renegotiate their sky-high fixed tariffs from last year, which do not reflect the fall in wholesale prices in recent months. Thousands of small businesses are trapped in contracts that mean their latest bills are at last summer’s peak market rate for energy. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) wants more help for its members a month after the UK Government cut support on energy bills for businesses.

The Energy Bill Relief Scheme has been downgraded to the Energy Bills Discount Scheme, which changes support to pennies that do not touch the sides of huge bills, says the FSB. Small firms that signed up to fixed tariffs in 2022 will see their bills revert back to last year’s peak levels. This could be three or four times what they were paying when the more generous government support scheme was in place.

FSB’s latest research shows more than one in ten (13%) small firms fixed their energy bills between 1 July and 31 December 2022, during which businesses were quoted up to £1 per kWh for electricity. Of this group, 13% say they could be forced to either close, downsize, or radically restructure their businesses, equating to 93,000 small firms across the UK.

A significant proportion of small firms stuck in fixed contracts are from the accommodation and food sector (28%), and the wholesale and retail sector (20%). Four in ten (42%) small firms that fixed energy contracts in the second half of last year say it has been impossible for them to pass on costs to consumers who had to tighten spending and can’t afford further price increases amid the cost of living crisis.

Moreover, it is suspected that energy brokers have mis-sold energy contracts to small businesses, which are unable to negotiate prices for themselves. It is believed that some energy brokers may have sold expensive fixed contracts, which resulted in higher commissions for themselves. In addition, some of the contracts that were locked in by the brokers are lengthy and up to a few years in duration which means that the consumer is faced with the extortionate pricing for a prolonged period. According to Ofgem, the energy regulator, businesses that use energy brokers are at greater risk of being mis-sold a contract, as some brokers are less transparent about the commission they earn from energy companies.

FSB is urging energy suppliers to allow small firms to extend their fixed contracts but at a blended and lower rate – between their original fixed rate and the current, lower wholesale rate. The option to renegotiate fixed contracts should be made automatically available to businesses which:

  • Negotiated the new energy contract between July 1 and December 31 2022
  • Can confirm the level of wholesale price on the contract is above the EBRS wholesale price cap
  • Can confirm the end date of the contract to demonstrate the length of exposure to higher prices from April 2023 onwards

FSB policy chair Tina McKenzie said: “Having come out from a tough winter, this Spring is supposed to be the beginning of economic recovery, but tens of thousands are still very much in survival mode because they are tied-in to sky-high energy contracts. Many small businesses agreed to lock in energy contracts last year to ensure they qualified for the maximum level of Government support. Now, with that support largely disappearing, they are once again faced with massive energy bill hikes as rates go back to pre-Energy Bill Relief Scheme level.”

“It’s disheartening to see a significant proportion of small firms could be forced to close, downsize or radically restructure their businesses just when we look to grow our economy. Our community shrank by 500,000 small businesses over the two years of COVID; we shouldn’t now be adding any more to that gruesome tally.

Overall, the current situation highlights the importance of transparency and fairness in the energy market, particularly for small businesses that may be struggling to manage their bills. By working together, energy suppliers, regulators, and small businesses can find solutions that ensure everyone has access to affordable and reliable energy, while also supporting economic growth and recovery.

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