Over half of Britain’s micro-businesses feel the rising cost of energy, and the terms under which providers demand payments, is putting their future in doubt.
A recent survey by Utilita Energy, an independent UK energy supplier, found that over half of micro-businesses (56%) believe rising energy costs are threatening their future, and almost half (45%) feel penalised by energy suppliers who ask for large up-front payments.
The survey, which questioned 502 micro-businesses, including cafes, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, convenience stores and other retail outlets, also found just under a third (31%) have been put on a high tariff as they’re considered to be a credit risk, while around a fifth (21%) have been turned down by energy suppliers.
The most alarming statistic of all is that 7% of businesses have been cut off for missing a payment, which has had catastrophic commercial consequences.
Is it right that energy companies should penalise the smallest businesses so harshly? And is anything being done to help those start-ups that struggle to get a good energy deal and meet their monthly repayments?
A micro business is simply a business that operates on a very small scale.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show these small scale operations now account for over three-quarters (76%) of all UK businesses – of the 5.5 million businesses in the UK, 1.3 million employ more than one person, while the remaining 4.2 million don’t employ anyone else but the owner.
Non-employing businesses account for the vast majority (89%) of the new businesses created in the UK since 2000 – in 2016 alone, non-employing businesses made up just over three-quarters (76%) of the new businesses created that year.
Energy suppliers, like any other business that offers credit, run credit checks against clients and customers before offering energy tariffs – the problem facing many micro businesses is that they’re often put onto expensive tariffs with expensive up-front fees, or rejected completely, because energy suppliers see them as a credit risk.
It’s a situation that is seeing many microbusinesses struggle, as they cannot afford the high rates and up-front fees imposed by energy suppliers, particularly when they are just starting out and cash flow could be a problem.
If the energy supplier then cuts them off for non-payment, they can no longer trade and have no chance of meeting the repayments.
So serious is the problem that, in a letter sent to Dermot Nolan, Chief Executive of Ofgem, Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, stipulated, stipulated that the energy regulator needs to include measures to ensure micro businesses are fairly treated by energy companies.
Sow what, if anything, is Ofgem planning to do to help the small start-ups that form such a crucial part of the UK economy?
Ofgem has released the following statement in response to Greg Clark’s letter: “We will consult on further measures to help such businesses including potentially extending domestic protections – such as cooling off periods and reducing a supplier’s ability to object to a customer switching – to the smallest micro business customers.”
In short, this means microbusinesses will be given extra protection and rights when it comes to energy supply and switching, measure that will bring the business energy product much closer to the domestic one – for the very smallest start-ups, at least.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the new measure will include protection against microbusinesses having their energy supply cut off, similar to the protection afforded to the more vulnerable domestic customers.
And, given the current ambiguity between where a micro business ends and a small business begins, there is the potential for the well intentioned additional rules to actually reduce the protections currently received by small business customers.
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