Comparison sites questioned by Ofgem over price fixing
We’re used to energy companies being villainous in their dealings with poor, cold consumers, but what is more grating is when self-proclaimed consumer champions are found out to be dodgy dealing as well. Two price comparison sites found themselves hit where it hurts (in the share price) over concerns surrounding an Ofgem investigation.
This week, price comparison website MoneySupermarket.com admitted it had been asked to provide information to the energy regulator to help establish whether to include it as part of an ongoing enquiry. Ofgem had previously announced that it was investigating whether two or more companies that providing a “supporting service” for the energy industry were in breach of competition law. In simple terms, Ofgem suspect the price comparison sites were price-fixing with each other. Which is not normally something a bona-fide consumer champion would do.
The investigation could take “a number of months” and if found guilty, the companies could be fined “up to 10% of prior-year group revenue,” according to analysts at UBS bank. Moneysupermarket.com’s stock dropped by almost 10% at the news, and Zoopla, who own uSwitch,who are also 'helping Ofgem with their enquiries' also suffered a further 5% fall in their share price,despite news of their investigation on the issue having already leaked out.
Ofgem are reportedly keen to downplay the involvement of the comparison sites, whose income derives almost wholly from advertising on their sites and commissions paid on switches, as they don’t want to put consumers off using them. While comparison sites are, in principle, a good thing for consumers, and Ofgem is keen to get people checking the competitiveness of their bills, savvy consumers will always remember that in a market-driven company there has to be something in it for the comparison makers. After all, they are not, shackle-free consumer champions in reality, but listed companies with shareholders looking for a return to answer to…