23/09/2011 05:55 BST | Updated 22/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Half Of The Big Six Power Companies Want Competition Inquiry

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- Three of the UK's big six power companies want a competition inquiry into the gas and electricity market as a way to restore customer confidence.

Having previously opposed any investigation, the change of heart follows an attack this week by Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who accused the industry of predatory pricing following a big hike in gas and electricity bills this autumn.

According to the Financial Times (FT), npower, part of German group RWE, now believes that mistrust of the industry by the public is such that a formal investigation may be the only way to restore it.

Volker Beckers, chief executive of RWE npower, said what is needed now is clarity and that if a Competition Commission inquiry achieves that clarity then "let's get on with it".

He added: "We have nothing to hide."

Another German owned group, E.ON, is also now said to want an inquiry following Mr Huhne's comments, saying it may be the only option to get out of "this situation of distrust".

French-owned group EDF was the first of the large power suppliers to advocate a referral earlier this month.

Regulator Ofgem stopped short of referring the industry in March when it concluded its last investigation into the retail energy market, but instead proposed a series of reforms that included simplifying bills to give customers greater clarity over how retail prices relate to wholesale energy costs.

An Ofgem spokesman told the FT that its position had not changed and that the firms should back its reforms if they want to restore customer confidence.

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, is still reportedly opposed to any inquiry.