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LONDON (Reuters) - Britons will have fairer and clearer energy bills from this summer, regulator Ofgem said on Thursday, laying out tougher rules to deal with the public's mistrust of energy suppliers.
Energy companies will have to provide consumers with the best tariffs on offer, deal swiftly with customer complaints and scrap price increases on fixed-term contracts.
"We are now counting down to the most radical shake-up of the energy retail market since competition began," said Alistair Buchanan, Ofgem chief executive
The first stage of reforms will come into force this summer, provided no objections are raised by the suppliers, and a second stage including limiting the amount of tariffs on offer to four will start in the winter, Ofgem said.
Prime Minister David Cameron surprised his own ministers in October when he intervened in the debate about consumer bills by promising to force suppliers to put customers on their cheapest tariffs.
All of Britain's big six energy suppliers, who control the majority of the retail market, raised tariffs this winter, prompting an outcry among consumers who accused them of squeezing customers to make profits.
Britain's six largest energy suppliers are EDF Energy, Centrica, SSE, Scottish Power, E.ON and RWE npower.
The government's latest energy poll showed Britons are increasingly worried about their energy bills and 12 percent of those respondents said energy costs were a greater concern to them than transport or food expenses.
Details of Ofgem's proposals will be published around the end of March and after a one-month response period the regulator will make a decision on whether or not to implement the reforms in May.
If Ofgem decide in favour of the reforms, energy suppliers and other stakeholders will then have time appeal to the Competition Commission.
Energy companies have already reduced the amount of tariffs on offer to make choice clearer and have pledged to help consumers find the deal that suits them best, said Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK, the body representing Britain's energy companies.
Reporting by Karolin Schaps, editing by William Hardy