Labour leader Ed Miliband is to make a fresh attempt to reach out to business with a promise to protect small firms from "unfair" treatment at the hands of the energy companies.
In a speech to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Manchester, he will say that a Labour government would reform the energy market to ensure small firms were given the same legal protections as householders.
These would include establishing a new energy regulator with powers to suppliers from rolling firms on to more expensive tariffs without their consent or hitting them with "crippling" back-bills for periods of longer than a year.
The Government needs to make fuel efficiency programmes more widely available if it is to tackle fuel poverty, according to experts.
National Energy Action (NEA) chief executive Jenny Saunders called on the Coalition to "invest in old and cold housing":
4.5 million UK households are living in fuel poverty - on low incomes and with unaffordable energy bills.
The only sustainable way to tackle this problem is to invest in our old and cold housing stock.
In England, only £3.52 in Government funding is available per domestic electricity consumer to improve domestic energy efficiency compared to an average spend of £31.78 in the other nations.
Additional resources must be made available to improve the heating and insulation of our poorest households.
An estimated 4.5 million UK homes are living in fuel poverty and the Government is not doing enough to tackle the crisis, according to a report.
The UK Fuel Poverty Monitor (FPM) those living in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland were more likely to struggle with fuel poverty but they also had greater access to energy efficiency measures.
The average investment on energy efficiency programmes for low income households in England was just £3.52 per electricity customer, compared to £36.48 in Scotland, £31.31 in Wales and £27.55 in Northern Ireland, the report stated.
Homes eligible for assistance with insulation and other energy saving costs were not receiving it because the measures were too costly or potential customers were being asked for a contribution they could not afford, FPM said.
Regulators have called for an investigation into the UK's Big Six energy suppliers amid soaring household bills and rocketing profits.Read the full story ›
Ofgem has highlighted several key areas the Competition and Markets Authority should look at in its inquiry of the energy market, including possible tacit co-ordination and profits made by the 'Big Six'.
The energy watchdog has outlined the following areas:
- Customer trust: The review found that consumer trust had fallen with 43% of customers not trusting energy suppliers to be transparent with them.
- Entry barriers: The large suppliers own infrastructures such as power stations and supply businesses meaning it is difficult for new entrants to the market.
- Possible tacit co-ordination: Ofgem did not find evidence of explicit collusion between suppliers. However, the watchdog found evidence of possible tacit co-ordination in the timing and size of price announcements.
- Profits: The average profits for the 'Big Six' have increased from £3bn to £3.7bn in three years. Ofgem said it noted the increase and questioned suppliers saying that 5% is a fair margin.
The 'Big Six' energy firms "behave similarly" and "anticipate each other particularly on price rises" which leaves a market that is not competitive, Ofgem's Rachel Fletcher told ITV News.
The boss of Centrica, which owns British Gas, told ITV News the 'Big Six' energy firms are "absolutely not a cartel" after Ofgem's review found evidence of possible tacit co-ordination.
The energy watchdog said it did not find evidence of explicit collusion between the firms but said the timing and size of price announcements were part of the evidence that showed possible tacit co-ordination.
Sam Laidlaw told ITV News he "refutes totally" the idea that the 'Big Six' are a cartel and claimed that the energy market is "vibrant" and "very competitive."
The chief executive of RWE npower has welcomed the major competition inquiry into energy firms and said it is "time that the realities of the market were made public."
It's time that the realities of the energy market were made public. Britain has the 3rd cheapest gas prices in Europe and the 7th cheapest electricity prices, and we have taken steps to get to the facts as to why bills are going up.
If there are problems they need to be dealt with, and where the market is operating well this can be acknowledged.
Mr Massara added that British consumers deserved a "comprehensive and vigorous investigation" so the public could start trusting energy companies again.
ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills has tweeted:
Centrica boss says coal + North Sea oil have made us feel energy secure. By 2020 70% of gas we use will be imported. "Things changing fast"