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Most UK homes overpay for their energy, Ofgem finds

A majority of UK homes remain on poor value energy bills, according to the industry regulator as a price cap looms on so-called default tariffs.

In its annual State of the Energy Market report, Ofgem said it had noted a marked shift in customers leaving the so-called "big six" firms for smaller, independent suppliers.

The watchdog said that while that had tipped the big six – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, SSE, npower and Scottish Power – into the first fall in collective profits since 2014, there were still too many customers being failed.

It measured a 10% decline in earnings totalling £900m this year for the big six as smaller firms snapped up market share.

The roll-out of smart meters is at risk of going over budget, MPs have warned
Image: Ofgem says better insulation and smart meters are helping households be more energy conscious

Ofgem said they now accounted for a quarter of the household supply sector.

However, as of April, it said 54% of homes were still on controversial default tariffs – including standard variable tariffs (SVTs) compared to 57% a year earlier.

These are bills which customers have been rolled on to when a fixed price contract ends and they have failed to either switch supplier or agree a new price.

Ofgem revealed its findings as a separate report by National Grid – which is responsible for keeping the lights on and gas flowing – showed it was "confident" there would be no energy crunch this winter.

Electricity pylons
Image: National Grid says it is confident of keeping lights and gas boilers on even if the weather takes a serious turn for an extended time

The company said there was sufficient capacity to avoid a repeat of last winter's scare when gas prices spiked during the "Beast from the East" cold snap after a series of breakdowns combined to hurt supplies.

Ofgem said those on prepayment meters were still the most likely to be paying over the odds for their energy.

It announced it was to take a look at the issue of self-disconnection after a survey found 10% of prepayment customers had cut off their electricity or gas supply because they did not top up their meters.

Dermot Nolan, chief executive at Ofgem, said: "We have witnessed many positive developments in energy over the last year, but the market is still not delivering good outcomes for all, especially the vulnerable.

"Ofgem has introduced the safeguard tariff which ensures that five million households, including some of the most vulnerable, pay a fairer price for their energy.

:: Regulator clears SSE / npower merger

The roll-out of smart meters is at risk of going over budget, MPs have warned
Image: Ofgem is concerned by the number of people simply not taking supplies amid the cost of energy

"Price protection will be extended to a further 11 million customers on the worst deals.

"We will continue to facilitate the transformation of the energy market to ensure that benefits are captured for all consumers and ensure no-one is left behind."

Lawrence Slade, chief executive of industry body Energy UK, said: "Ofgem's State of the Market report demonstrates how the energy sector continues to transition, with increasing competition and engagement driving benefits for
consumers, with switching up, complaints down and households spending less on average of their household budget on energy than last year.

"It is also welcome to see customer satisfaction with complaints handling increasing and the number of customers on standard tariffs continuing to fall.

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"And the industry is proactively taking steps to go further with a number of voluntary initiatives to improve service for customers, including the Energy Switch Guarantee which provides customers with the reassurance that switching will be simple, speedy and safe.

"The independently-chaired Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances is also looking at how all stakeholders, including Government and industry, can improve services for those in most need."

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Firms to launch Brexit contingency plans before Christmas

The majority of British businesses are preparing to launch contingency plans before Christmas as hopes of a Brexit deal fade.

A survey of 236 firms for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that many will make "damaging" moves which will include cutting jobs and relocating work overseas.

The survey focused on companies employing fewer than 500 people and it found that 82% of firms will start to implement their contingency plans by December if the Brexit process does not get any clearer.

The news comes as fears grow that the UK could leave the European Union in March without a deal, resulting in tariffs on exports, border checks and travel restrictions.

Carolyn Fairbairn
Image: Carolyn Fairbairn is director general of the CBI

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the situation was "urgent", adding: "The speed of negotiations is being outpaced by the reality firms are facing on the ground.

"Unless a withdrawal agreement is locked down by December, firms will press the button on their contingency plans.

"Jobs will be lost and supply chains moved.

"The knock-on effect for the UK economy would be significant: living standards would be affected and less money would be available for vital public services including schools, hospitals and housing."

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She said the uncertainty was "draining investment" from the UK, adding: "From a multinational plastics manufacturer which has cancelled a £7m investment, to a fashion house shelving £50m plans for a new UK factory, these are grave losses to our economy.

"Many firms won't publicise these decisions, yet their impact will show in lower GDP years down the line."

According to the CBI, 80% of companies said Brexit had already had a negative impact on their investment decisions, more than double the 36% that said the same a year ago.

Two-thirds said Brexit had affected how attractive the UK was to investors. One in four said it had no impact.

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People shopping at the Columbia Road Flower Market, a Sunday street market in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Image: A number of industries could be affected if there is no Brexit deal

Last week's summit between prime minister Theresa May and Europe's leaders made little progress towards a deal and a second summit in November has been called off.

The next meeting is scheduled for December but, even if a deal is reached, there is no guarantee that parliament will approve it.

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A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: "We are working hard to deliver a deal that works for businesses and remain confident of a positive outcome.

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"In the unlikely event we leave the EU without a deal, we have issued over 100 technical notices to help businesses make informed plans and preparations.

"We have engaged extensively with businesses and industry bodies from all sectors of the economy throughout the exit process and will continue to do so."

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Police found the remains of 63 more infants and fetuses at a second funeral home in Detroit

  • Detroit police found 63 remains of infants and fetuses at a funeral home — just days after discovering the remains of 11 babies at a separate funeral home.
  • Police Chief James Craig told reporters he couldn't say with certainty that the incident was isolated to just two funeral homes. "This is much larger than we might know," he said.
  • Investigators originally found the remains of 11 stillborn babies concealed in a funeral home's "false ceiling," after they received an anonymous letter tipping them off.

Detroit police on Friday announced they had found dozens more remains at a funeral home just days after uncovering the corpses of 11 infants concealed in the ceiling of a separate, defunct funeral home.

Authorities said they found remains of 63 infants and fetuses at the Perry Funeral Home, 36 of which were found in boxes and 27 in freezers.

"This is deeply disturbing," Police Chief James Craig told reporters at a press conference. "I am committed to get to the truth. I'm committed to following the evidence."

Craig said the police department's phone was "ringing off the hook" since the original discovery of 11 remains last week, adding that it's possible there are more remains at different establishments yet to be found.

"I would like to look at you and tell you I hope not," Craig told one reported. "I hope that it is isolated to these two. I can't say that with certainty. So this is much larger than we might know."

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Friday it suspended the mortuary science licenses of Perry Funeral Home and its director, The Detroit News reported.

The original discovery of 11 corpses came after authorities received an anonymous letter tipping them off about the Cantrell Funeral Home, which had been closed for months due to "deplorable conditions," according to The Detroit News.

Investigators then reportedly found the remains of 11 stillborn babies concealed in a "false ceiling" between the first and second floors of the building. Nine of those infants' bodies were in cardboard boxes, and two were inside a trash bag, which in turn was inside a infant-sized casket.

Craig said Friday that the investigation into the second funeral home came after authorities received a second tip from a parent who had heard a media report of the first discovery of remains.

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I’ve traveled to more than 30 countries, and here are the dumbest mistakes I made on the road that I’ll never make again

  • In March, I left New York to travel around the world as Business Insider's international correspondent. In total, in my life, I've traveled to 30-plus countries.
  • While traveling I've made tons of dumb mistakes that I'd like to avoid in the future. Everything from getting pickpocketed in the Mexico City metro to getting tricked by a fake taxi.
  • Learn from my mistakes and save yourself some aggravation.

The idea that travel is an adventure is one of the oldest clichès in the book. But, it's a clichè because it's true. And, on adventures, things go wrong. Often.

I've made so many mistakes while on the road that it would be impossible for me to recount them all. I've worn the wrong footwear on hikes and ended up with blisters as big as my heel. I've been pickpocketed not once, but twice. I've taken a metro in the wrong direction a dozen times. The mistakes never end.

But that's also what I love about travel: the constant sense of exploration, of trial and error, of sketching out new terrain on your mental map.

Below, I've collected as many of the mistakes as I can remember that I've made while traveling. There are a lot. Perhaps you'll learn from my mistakes and save yourself some aggravation.

SEE ALSO: I traveled the world for 6 months, and here's the single best piece of advice I can give you for any trip you take

DON'T MISS: I've been traveling the world for 6 months, and I've found real life doesn't always live up to the hype. These are the most disappointing places I've been.

1. I forgot to print out my boarding pass before getting on a budget airline. I had to pay $34 to print out my boarding pass at airport check-in.

I've been traveling the world for 6 months, and I still made an expensive budget airline mistake that should serve as a warning to anyone»

2. In Bali, I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops while driving a scooter bike. When my hand slipped on the throttle with my foot on the ground, it dragged and I ended up with a nasty cut.

3. On my last night in Tokyo, I decided it was a good idea to spend the night out drinking at an izakaya and singing karaoke. I woke up in a stupor, barely made my 8 a.m. flight, and was nauseous for the entire 13-hour flight to New York.

A little-known travel app that is Airbnb-meets-Tinder helped me have the wildest night in Tokyo partying until sunrise»

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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The Saudi government reportedly targeted and punished several dissidents after McKinsey identified them in a report

  • The Saudi government targeted and punished several dissidents after the American consultancy firm McKinsey & Company identified them in a report as critics, The New York Times reported.
  • McKinsey reportedly created a nine-page report gauging public response to Saudi austerity measures announced in 2015, and found that three dissidents had a major influence over negative coverage on Twitter.
  • One of the dissidents was arrested, another was hacked and had two brothers arrested, and a third, anonymous user's account was shut down, The Times reported.

Several dissidents were targeted by the Saudi government after a report from the American consultancy firm McKinsey & Company identified them as having a heavy influence over social-media criticisms of Saudi austerity measures, according to The New York Times.

McKinsey reportedly created a nine-page report measuring the public's response to austerity measures announced in 2015, and found that there was twice as much coverage of the measures on Twitter than on other news platforms, and that the coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

The McKinsey report, obtained by The Times, found that three people were particularly influential on Twitter, including Khalid al-Alkami, a writer; Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi critic who lives in Canada; and an anonymous user identified as Ahmad.

Following McKinsey's report, Alkami was reportedly arrested; two of Abdulaziz's brothers were arrested, and the government hacked Abdulaziz's phone; and the Ahmad account was shuttered.

A McKinsey spokesman said in a statement to Business Insider that the report was not created for the Saudi government, used publicly available information, and was intended primarily for an "internal" audience.

"We were never commissioned by any authority in Saudi Arabia to prepare a report of any kind or in any form to identify critics. In our work with governments, McKinsey has not and never would engage in any work that seeks to target individuals based on their views," the spokesman said.

He continued: "We are horrified by the possibility, however remote, that it could have been misused in any way. At this point, we have seen no evidence to suggest that it was misused, but we are urgently investigating how and with whom the document was shared."

The news comes amid international uproar over the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom the Saudi government acknowledged Friday was killed in a consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi had frequently criticized the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his columns.

Khashoggi's death, which the Saudis have said occurred after a physical altercation, has highlighted the Saudi government's attempts to quash dissent and silence critics, and shone a spotlight on the companies and governments who have aided the regime.

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The CEO of Silicon Valley DNA testing startup 23andMe shares the health product she hopes to sell next

  • Anne Wojcicki, the CEO and founder of Silicon Valley's most popular genetics testing startup, 23andMe, said this week that she hopes the company expands its current health offering lineup.
  • 23andMe, which made headlines recently on the heels of a new $300-million partnership with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, currently offers health screenings for some of the genes involved in breast cancer, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.
  • On Tuesday, Wojcicki said she hopes to add a new health offering that looks at how you process medications including those for depression.
  • Albertsons pharmacies and gene testing startup Color Genomics currently offer that kind of test for $250-$750, but many scientists say it's not worth the money.

Anne Wojcicki, the CEO and founder of popular Silicon Valley gene testing company 23andMe, doesn't feel like the company is currently offering what she called a "complete product."

That's because the current gene testing kit — which includes health screenings for some of the genes involved in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and breast cancer — does not include a test that looks at how you process medications including those for depression.

Those DNA tests, which assess genes involved in the break down of antidepressants in the body, are currently being offered by psychiatrists and Albertsons pharmacists in three major cities at a hefty price tag of $750. Just last month, another Silicon Valley genetics testing startup called Color Genomics began offering the test as part of its $250 kits.

And on Tuesday at a conference organized by Rock Health, one of Silicon Valley's premier health-tech funding groups, Wojcicki said she hoped her company could include that kind of test in its product lineup soon.

But many scientists feel the tests don't offer a clear benefit to people and in some cases are not worth the money. Among other issues, the tests may give conflicting results to the same patient for the same medication and don't tell providers which specific medication is best, according to experts.

'When we can bring pharmacogenomics back, then we have a complete product back'

23andMe kitIn the early days of 23andMe, the company included a test for depression medications in its lineup of health offerings, Wojcicki said. But in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration forced the company to stop selling those products and get federal approval on the grounds that the tests could be misinterpreted as health advice. The company was allowed to continue selling the genealogy component of its kit, which looks at ancestry.

Last year, the FDA gave the company the green light to again sell some of its health screenings. On the heels of that decision, 23andMe rolled out a limited selection of some of its original products. The most recent addition, unveiled in March, is a test for some of the genes involved in the risk of developing breast cancer, also known as BRCA genes.

Now, the company is only missing one of those original health products, Wojcicki said: a test for depression medications, also called pharmacogenomics.

"The only one we don’t have back yet is pharmacogenomics. We used to have that and we’d like to have that one come back," Wojcicki said on Tuesday at a panel discussion at the Rock Health Summit in San Francisco.

“When we can bring pharmacogenomics back, then we have a complete product back," she said.

It remains to be seen how the company would roll out such a test. Because 23andMe sells its tests directly to people (they can be purchased online and at a selection of drug stores), it would need to get FDA approval before selling an additional health product. The test could be incorporated into the existing health lineup, which currently includes tests for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and breast cancer for $199, or it could be sold as a stand-alone test.

Color Genomics chose to incorporate its new pharmacogenomics product into its existing $250 test. Unlike 23andMe, which sells its services directly to consumers, Color requires people to order their tests through a medical provider. In addition, the company mandates talking with a professional genetics counselor and a clinical pharmacist to avoid potentially dangerous misinterpretations of the results.

Genomind and Assurex, the two companies who offer a standalone pharmacogenomics product, sell the test through psychiatrists and some pharmacists for $750.

Wojcicki did not provide further details on how much the test — should the company ultimately choose to offer it — would cost or when it would be available. A company representative also declined to offer Business Insider more information about the test. But Wojcicki said she saw the pharmacogenomics service as part of the company's overall mission to help empower customers with more data about themselves and prevent negative health outcomes when possible.

"I think one thing genetics can do is help prevent a lot of early deaths," Wojcicki said.

SEE ALSO: DNA tests that cost as much as $750 claim to tell you which antidepressant is best for you, but scientists say they're not worth the money

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