U.K. Asks Energy Companies to Freeze Household Bills, BBC Says

The U.K. government has asked utilities to hold household energy bills steady for the next 18 months, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The government has asked for the commitment as part of an agreement with suppliers to cut annual bills by an average of 50 pounds ($82) a year, the BBC said, citing people in the industry it didn’t identify. The deal wouldn’t be binding and prices would go up if wholesale costs rose sharply, it said.

The cost of energy has dominated political debate in the U.K. since September when opposition leader Ed Miliband promised a two-year freeze on energy bills if his Labour party wins the general election in 2015. Since then, five of the six largest suppliers have announced price rises.

The government is considering changes to the Energy Company Obligation, or ECO, a program that requires suppliers to pay for energy-efficiency measures, allowing companies to spread the cost over a longer period, the BBC said. The period for paying charges to improve distribution networks may also be extended, the report said.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change official declined to comment, saying the results of a review of energy policy will be announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn statement next week.

“David Cameron is making himself look weaker and weaker with every passing day,” Labour’s shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, said in a statement today. “For months he has been saying Labour’s energy price freeze is a con. Now he is begging the energy companies to do the very same thing.”

Sophie Fitton, a spokeswoman for Centrica Plc, the U.K.’s largest energy supplier, declined to comment when reached by phone.