Energy firm SSE’s pays out to shareholders just one week before 8% price hike

Energy firm SSE became the latest company to prompt anger from consumers today, as its half-year profits resulted in an increased payout for shareholders.

The move, coming just one week before it raises its energy tariffs by 8.2%, has only served to increase frustrations with the 'big six' energy companies.

Scotland-based SSE argued its profits, which fell from £400.8 million to £354 million in the six months ending on September 30th, are essential if it is to continue to invest in Britain's energy infrastructure.

Its retail operation registered an £89.4 million loss, while its energy supply division made a £115.4 million loss. But the company increased its interim dividend payment by 3.2%.

The overall falling level of profits did not prevent shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex expressing anger.

"Just days before their price hike hits millions of households, these profits and the above inflation rise in dividends to shareholders raise yet more questions about whether this market is really working for consumers," he said.

"Labour's price freeze will save money for 27 million homes and 2.4 million businesses and our reforms will deliver fairer prices in the future."

Yesterday energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey warned the 'big six' they feared losing the confidence of their customers because of opaque accounting measures.

The coalition is reviewing its approach to the energy sector and could announce changes in next month's autumn statement.

SSE's profits came as the National Audit Office published a report warning that the government was not sufficiently confident that energy prices would even be affordable in the future.

It forecast that energy bills would continue to increase above inflation until 2030 at the earliest – and suggested it was not clear whether prices would be affordable by then.

The Treasury expects two-thirds of the £310 billion investment in new infrastructure, also including water and telecoms spending, will be financed by the private sector.

But the spending watchdog said it could not say by how much household utility bills would be rising as a result.

"Government and regulators do not know the overall impact of planned infrastructure on future consumer utility bills, or whether households, especially those on low incomes, will be able to afford to pay them," NAO chief Amyas Morse said.

"It seems critical to know 'how much is too much', based on reliable information."

A government spokesperson said: "Decades of underinvestment have left the UK struggling with insufficient energy infrastructure, but we are committed to fixing the failures of previous governments, and to making the difficult decisions that will allow us to have the infrastructure we need."