Theresa May has been urged to revive her election pledge to put a price cap on energy bills by more than 70 Conservative MPs who signed a cross-party letter to the prime minister before the party’s conference this weekend.
In the letter to May and the business secretary, Greg Clark, MPs said the move would protect families on standard variable tariffs.
Clark wrote to Ofgem in June after the general election asking it to safeguard “customers on the poorest value tariff”, appearing to water down the Conservative manifesto pledge to introduce a cap on standard variable tariffs used by millions of homes.
Ofgem is planning a much narrower cap on bills for the 2 million people eligible for the warm home discount, an existing annual £140 payment for households on certain benefits. The regulator is expected to formally publish the plans within days, with the change taking effect in January so people would enjoy some savings this winter.
In a letter signed by 192 MPs, including Labour and SNP and the Green party co-leader, Caroline Lucas, they said action on energy bills was promised in three party manifestos.
“We hope you will work with us and Ofgem to stop this big six stitch-up, and pledge to help the millions of households who Ofgem seem set to ignore,” it says.
The letter was co-ordinated by the Conservative MP John Penrose, who has led calls in his party for a cap, as well as Labour’s Caroline Flint and the SNP’s Patricia Gibson.
Penrose said the big six energy companies had “ripped off 17 million consumers and yet Ofgem have chosen to stand idly by, leaving 15 million customers on SVTs [standard variable tariffs] to be preyed upon”.
“If Ofgem won’t challenge the big six and stand up for consumers, the government should replace it and implement the energy price cap itself,” he said. “This was a manifesto pledge in the Conservative, Labour and SNP election campaigns, and the breadth and depth of cross-party signatures on this letter shows huge support for the government to get this through parliament.”
Conservative MPs who have signed the letter come from across the spectrum in the party: rightwing Brexiters including Bernard Jenkin, Andrew Bridgen and Edward Leigh as well as modernising Tories Heidi Allen and Johnny Mercer.
Former cabinet ministers have also signed, including Andrew Mitchell and Caroline Spelman.
However, Ofgem said that while it shared MPs’ concerns that the energy market was failing some consumers, it made clear it had no plans for a wide-ranging cap unless ordered to do so by ministers.
“A price cap for all customers on standard tariffs would represent a significant change in policy. We believe that the decision is a matter for government, not an unelected regulator,” a spokesman said.
Standard variable tariffs are the poor-value tariffs that two-thirds of Britons are on, and which households roll on to when cheaper, fixed-term deals come to an end.
May referred to capping bills for 17 million families on standard variable tariffs, but the true figure is closer to 12 million, because 2 million people have come off such deals and a further 3 million are protected by an existing cap.