By Daniel Hunter

British Gas has announced that its profits for 2011 have fallen 30% compared to 2010, following what it has called a year of turbulence and challenge. Its parent company Centrica, however, has posted a slight increase in profits.

The flat overall results for Centrica will do little to quell the anger of homeowners across the country who are paying over the odds for their energy bills. And with energy prices expected to rise further in the coming months and years, fears are growing that vulnerable and financially excluded people will be faced with a choice between heating and eating.

Ofgem have announced intentions to make the energy market simpler and easier to navigate but in the short-term many will be left struggling to pay their bills for the rest of the winter and beyond. The value now lies in looking beyond the Big Six and households need to be proactive in seeking the best deals, which are increasingly being offered by smaller energy companies.

Danny Jatania, CEO of consumer champions Pockit believes that now is the time for UK households to take control of their spending.

“Fortunately the weather was mild last year but still it didn’t stop energy customers feeling the pinch when it came to paying their bills, even though their consumption was lower overall," he said.

"The reason many are suffering is because of the overly complex energy market. The news of SSE scrapping its confusing range of tariffs is encouraging but this approach must be adopted much more widely throughout the industry if customers are to be able to make savings on their bills.

“At Pockit we are encouraging people to monitor their spending more effectively and the best way to take control of your energy usage is to find deals that offer the free installation of smart meters, which ensure that customers only pay for the energy they use.”

The backlash against the Big Six has been sparked by estimates that 5.5million UK households are in fuel poverty and 3,000 winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty every year. The financially excluded are faced with a bewildering range of tariffs and the prospect of estimated bills charging them for energy that they have not used. With many people turning their backs on payment options that generate debt, such as credit cards, inaccurate estimated bills can have a devastating effect on the households of those who cannot afford to wait for compensation payments.

“Millions of consumers are paying more than is necessary for their energy," Danny continued.

"The aim is for the energy market to become more competitive, which will see prices being driven down and the emphasis being placed upon the customer. While Ofgem is trying to encourage a more competitive energy market, households can take the initiative by shopping around and rewarding energy companies that are innovating and providing fairer deals.”

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