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Why bad news about energy prices should prompt consumer action

With energy suppliers continuing to post impressive profits, are consumers in danger of becoming numb to the cost of household bills?

How many people woke up on Wednesday morning and were shocked to hear that British Gas had seen its profits rise to £356 million? There was probably some tutting, some rolling of eyes, some shaking of heads - but did anyone scream bloody murder, cry out to the heavens and curse every energy supplier under the sun?

Probably not. Given the media's relatively muted response to the news so far, it seems we're far from outraged. We're certainly not shocked. We've seen stories just like this countless times from all the suppliers, so what else is there to do but have a quick moan and get on with things?

It's a familiar trend. In Britain we used to hold nationwide strikes when petrol prices rose, but these days we scoff for a second before filling up the tank and buying a bag of Skittles at the till.

The same can be said of various other industries. Sports fans slam ticket prices but continue to pay them, urban drinkers bemoan the cost of a pint but still go ahead and buy one, sometimes many. The list goes on, but anger at energy prices should always be more justified because gas and electricity are commodities that most of the population have little choice but to buy.

Submission

There's very little that can be done about trends in energy prices, but this doesn't mean we should blindly pay whatever it is that energy companies command

As a company, British Gas comes under the most scrutiny because it's the market leader and the name the public associates with the halcyon days of pre-privatisation - but all the big six suppliers generate a similar profit per customer, and each are bound by the government's insistence that providers invest in upgrading the network and new cleaner generation.

While these factors are the basis on which the major companies justify their performance, when they announce profits and price rises they command column inches - the current economic climate dictates that we should be concerned when businesses are benefitting from our use of energy that, in many cases, people rely on as a basic human need.

Ironically, the constant attention doesn't fuel our outrage, it numbs it. It goes with the theory that if you shout something at someone for long enough they'll eventually get bored and agree. The negative press has effectively railroaded us into submission.

Regain control

Short of some kind of revolution, there's very little that can be done about trends in energy prices. However, this doesn't mean we should blindly pay whatever it is that energy companies command. If our collective inertia wins through, the more likely it is that energy prices will go up. And up. And up.

So given that many people's wages aren't increasing at the same rate as their bills, I don't think people should simply sit back and accept that they're going to need to pull the purse strings even tighter this year. Instead, they should do what they can to get their energy bills down as low as possible. Engaging with the market and switching tariff or supplier is easy - and it saves a lot of people a lot of money.

Plus, the more active we are, the more competition is stimulated, which can only work in the consumer's favour. Who knows, we may even get energy companies thinking about keeping their customers happy rather than maximising their profits.

Image credit: Shalom Tesciuba

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