Improvements for microbusinesses in the market begin to take effect

Before energy prices began to really soar, in March this year we saw the final package of reforms following the Microbusiness Strategic Review from Ofgem. The outcome of the review was to introduce changes to supplier licence conditions that would improve how microbusinesses are treated in the market. The new requirements aim to boost engagement and strengthen protections for microbusinesses through greater transparency over contract terms and complaint resolution.

As of 1 October, many of these licence modifications have now come into effect including strengthened requirements on the provision of principal contractual terms to ensure that they are clearly brought to the customer’s attention both pre- and post-contracting. Ofgem also decided that suppliers should ensure customers are provided with information around brokerage costs in the principal terms, to provide clarity around additional costs and ensure suitable purchasing decisions can be made by microbusinesses. There has also been a ban on suppliers requiring termination notices from microbusinesses if they wish to switch suppliers (excluding evergreen contracts), to enable a smoother switching process.

One key outcome of the Microbusiness Strategic Review that is yet to take effect is the requirement for suppliers to work only with brokers signed up to a qualifying Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. This means any broker disputes may be resolved through an independent body, in this case through Ombudsman Services. As of 3 November, the Ombudsman Services reported that, ahead of the requirement taking effect, there were over 1,400 Third-Party Intermediaries (TPIs) with a successful application, with more than 200 still undergoing the sign-up process.

Another part of the reforms is the publication of resources and advice that have been produced by Ofgem in collaboration with Citizens Advice. In its first guidance publication published on 12 October, it highlighted what microbusinesses need to know about the ADR scheme and how it works. This was followed by another guidance publication on 14 October, in which Ofgem outlined some broader points on TPIs and what microbusiness customers ought to know. The regulator advised on how TPI costs can be paid directly or indirectly and included a table of voluntary principles that it advises a TPI should follow.

Within the guidance, Ofgem also noted that it does not regulate or license TPIs, which serves as a reminder that the government has also been working in tandem on the issue. BEIS previously put out a call for evidence in August 2021 regarding potential regulation of TPI activity, having identified a number of potential risks for consumer harm. However, outside of the Microbusiness Strategic Review there has been little progress in finding the balance between the regulation of TPIs and becoming overly burdensome on a part of the market that works well for the majority of customers.  

While a difficult winter approaches for all, the changes introduced by Ofgem should have a beneficial effect in years to come by ensuring microbusiness consumers are not left behind in the market and are treated fairly by brokers and TPIs.

We keep track of all updates and developments to the supplier compliance landscape, similar to that included in today’s blog, for both domestic and non-domestic businesses through our Energy Supplier Compliance Portal. We’ve recently relaunched the service with a new and improved design, to help you find the information you need quickly and easily.

If you have any questions about our services or would like to sign up for a free two-week trial to see our new Compliance Portal, please get in touch through email with m.jennings@cornwall-insight.com. If you currently subscribe to the portal, we’ll be in touch shortly with your new login in details and to arrange a demonstration.

Related thinking

Regulation and policy

Energy Price Guarantee to end in April

I was not surprised by the announcement from the Chancellor today (17/10) regarding the shortened time period in which the domestic Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) will apply, for all the reasons discussed in our report -  Energy Price Guarantee - Counting the Cost - and my accompanying blog. Our report...

Regulation and policy

Government to consult on the introduction of Cost-Plus-Revenue Limit

The government issued its Energy Prices Bill on 12 October. The bill will put in law a number of the already-announced mechanisms that will be used to support households and businesses this winter including the Energy Price Guarantee and the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. Also announced alongside this is the...

Energy storage and flexibility

From zero to hero: Can CfDs split markets and reduce costs this winter?

Given media comment on the imposition of a revenue cap for low carbon generators instead of migration of existing projects onto a CfD, please find below a blog published by Cornwall Insight three weeks ago. Not only did this note the possibility of the revenue cap being a fall back...

Regulation and policy

New customer support schemes will need very careful management

1 October 2022, marked a momentous day for the British retail energy markets, indeed for the nation as a whole. On that Saturday the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) commenced for household customers and the Energy Bill Reduction Scheme (EBRS) for businesses. Not since March 1990 have ministers had so much...

Regulation and policy

One-hit wonder? Assessing the government’s business support scheme

Subsidising the unprecedented cost of energy for both households and businesses came in at the forefront of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng’s “mini-budget” last Friday. Described as “one of the biggest interventions ever made”, Kwarteng confirmed a three-step plan. Firstly, as announced on 8 September, the introduction of...

Low carbon generation

MCS Charitable Foundation – Hydrogen Costs

MCS Charitable Foundation (“MCS”) in its charity goal of decarbonising homes, heat and energy has commissioned us to calculate the costs of blue and green hydrogen, based on current and projected gas prices. This report sets out our methodology for this forecast, and our findings in terms of delivered prices...

Energy storage and flexibility

Electricity network reform: where are we now?

In its Energy Security Strategy (ESS), the UK government set out ambitions for 95% of electricity to be sourced from low carbon generation by 2030 and for the UK to have a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035. In order to accommodate this ambition, the electricity network will need to...

Business supply and services

Great expectations – the complexity of delivering on the promise for business energy costs

Stories of hardship to businesses from rising energy prices have become much more prevalent in recent weeks as the critical 1 October date for new supply contracts looms. Our recent insight paper Weathering the storm: Mitigating the impact of energy price hikes for businesses set out some of the reasons...