Bulb energy group collapses into special administration

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Details of the UK’s biggest previous business failure are expected to be published at around 1200 GMT on Wednesday

A “big casualty” in the UK’s energy market, Bulb, has gone into special administration.

It is expected to be placed in the hands of asset managers, led by company raiders, and will be subject to an urgent investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority.

In a statement, Bulb blamed “disliking terms and conditions”, coupled with “the determination of the current energy industry to deal harshly with the so-called old energy networks”.

The group’s 1.7 million customers have all been advised to switch supplier.

This is now being accepted by all gas and electricity suppliers.

Outsiders could acquire Bulb

No details have yet been released about the company’s liabilities.

However, in a warning to customers, a statement released by the administrators noted that all estimated balances will be removed from accounts.

There will be no late-payment penalties, the administrators advised.

The stock market is set to be updated soon with details of the group’s assets, liabilities and ownership.

‘Long, tortuous and sad’

Under the terms of special administration, a purchaser or administrator will be in control.

It will have two years to operate the company, during which time any claims will need to be settled.

The stock market announcement says the process has been “tortuous and protracted”.

“It is fitting that we can finally see the end of a company that has taken pride in being a pioneer in delivering ethical packaging,” the statement continued.

Some Bulb customers have been advised to contact a specialist support line until further notice.

Other alternatives

A spokeswoman for Energy GB said the group was making extra phone calls to Bulb customers to “make sure they aren’t immediately leaving the energy market”.

It is also working with small suppliers to ensure they have enough supplies.

The Blue+Clear Network could provide Bulb customers with an alternative provider, while open proposals for potential buyers have been shortlisted.

However, the idea may attract shareholder interest, as large institutional investors are unhappy with current market conditions.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Bulb’s glasses-sized powerpacks have proved popular in the UK

Bulb’s apparent demise follows those of rivals Ecotricity and Ebico – but these consumers were given time to switch to another supplier.

A Comet, Toys R Us and Maplin collapse has also resulted in claims of “co-oparity”, in which a supplier exits a market but leaves customers stranded on the grounds that none of the other players have large enough market shares to offer them a viable alternative.

“It is worth remembering the big four are chasing after their customers the hardest of all – (only) suppliers generally get paid early. Customers get treated like an afterthought,” it said.

Mr Balls has a crusade

But a long-time campaigner for causes like reusable shopping bags says he is frustrated at being kept in the dark about Bulb’s failure.

Martin Brammer, founder of the Bulb Partnership, a coalition of 8,000 companies and organisations, and a former rival to Bulb, believes it could easily have found a buyer.

But “some people went wrong”, he said.

“Customer number one wrong in my view was the CEO,” he said.

“Jeff Lane, who was in charge of the company, got a massive windfall from his shares and as a consequence he is on the take,” Mr Brammer added.

And, he pointed out, the current energy price cap was supposed to be introduced by 2020.

Bulb was supported by the likes of seven borough councils and five European energy companies, such as Denmark’s Dong Energy and Spain’s Iberdrola.

“They were informed everything in stone about why we should buy Bulb, so obviously they have some kind of responsibility to fix it,” Mr Brammer said.

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