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Firms at risk of energy crunch

Businesses are open to "exploitation" from energy companies, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The industry body is calling on regulator Ofgem to ensure its current probe into the energy sector addresses issues for business customers as well as domestic users.

According to the BCC, businesses are "significantly more vulnerable to exploitation" than domestic customers as they do not have the same protection.

Differences include: no regulatory requirement for business suppliers to publish their tariffs; contract commitments usually lock firms in for up to five years rather than the 28 days that householders receive; and there is no 'cooling off period' available for firms.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "With the economy slowing and energy bills on the rise, it is totally unacceptable that hard pressed businesses are left so open to exploitation by energy suppliers.

"Energywatch is currently providing a crucial service to thousands of businesses who are confused and frustrated by energy suppliers.

"If a 'super consumer group' is to be established, as the government plans, there is little doubt in my mind that this service will be all but lost, leaving companies at the mercy of the suppliers. An obvious solution would be establishing a separate watchdog, dedicated to assisting businesses."

Energywatch receives 32,000 calls from businesses seeking help and advice every year. A new and dedicated business watchdog would ensure that this vital service is not lost in the creation of a single consumer group covering a range of industries, the BCC said.

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