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Energy Advice Line calls for better protection for small firms

The Energy Advice Line has joined calls for small businesses to be given the same consumer protections as domestic energy users.

The call comes as it emerged that business energy users would not receive the much-trumpeted announcement of a self-imposed price freeze by Big Six supplier SSE.

Julian Morgan, managing director of the price comparison, switching and advice service for domestic and business energy customers, said the plight of business energy users had been ignored for too long.

He backed calls by the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) for a better deal for small and micro businesses. The FSB said they were disadvantaged compared to domestic energy users and large companies when taking out energy contracts.

"We support calls by the FSB for micro businesses to be given the same consumer rights as domestic consumers when it comes to energy," Mr Morgan said.

"We also endorse calls for the energy regulator to make suppliers publish their default tariffs for small business customers who currently face difficulties when attempting to compare prices and switch providers.

"Vast numbers of small and micro business are run by a very small number of people, and very often just the owner. They have no more expertise or knowledge about energy contracts than a domestic consumer, and therefore they need the same protection."

Mr Morgan pointed to an FSB report Small Businesses as Consumers: Are They Sufficiently Well Protected? which found that the owners of many small firms owners were working "flat out" on their core business and believed they did not have time to regularly search for the better tariffs. Their task was made worse by the lack of published prices in the energy sector.

"Interestingly, many small businesses believe it is not worth their while to put in the work required to stay in control of their energy bills because their requirements are so low compared to large organisations. They also feel they lack the bargaining power of their larger counterparts."

The decision by SSE to exclude small businesses from its 21-month price freeze underscored the fact that they were not getting a fair deal from suppliers," Mr Morgan said.

"SSE's announcement will obviously come as a great relief to domestic consumers, but struggling small businesses are yet again being left out in the cold," Mr Morgan said.

"It really is about time the attentions of politicians, regulators and consumer groups turned to small and micro businesses. They urgently need help and protection.

"Every moment a small business spends away from their operation trying to make sense of business energy tariffs costs them money, as does ignoring their energy supplies and paying more than they need to."

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