How and why we consult
We don’t operate in a vacuum: our regulations affect people and businesses across the country.
So it’s essential that we have as clear a picture as possible of the implications of our policies before we implement them. Consulting allows us to do this fairly, transparently, and openly, so we act on the best evidence we can get.
From the largest industrial energy user to the smallest household: anyone with an interest in our policy proposals should be able to access and respond to our consultations if they’re directly affected by their implications.
And we’re always looking at how to make them more accessible and easier for more people to respond to – this means making them short, interesting, engaging, cutting them down in number, letting you know when there’s a consultation on the way, and giving you enough time to respond when it’s published.
It’s also important that we consult at the right time, ie when we have concrete proposals to put forward, rather than vague ideas, so that when we’re asking you to respond, your response is as helpful for us as it is useful for you.
Our consultations aren’t always long documents. Where we can, we will engage with you in less formal ways, such as by inviting you to workshops or webinars, or to participate in online surveys.
When we consult
Consulting makes us make better decisions, builds understanding, and helps progress towards consensus aimed at protecting the interests of current and future energy consumers.
We will generally consult at a stage when there is still scope to influence policy outcome. Considering stakeholders’ views early into the process stimulates debate and helps ensure we explore all policy options.
Keeping the burdens down
We know that our consultations can be a burden for some. We strive to minimise this, but at the same time, want to maximise the chances of responses coming from as wide a cross-section of people as possible.
We are always interested in hearing how we could be doing this better, in ways that are better tailored to your needs and mindful of the burdens on your time and resources. And we’ll try to keep you informed at all stages of the process.
How long we consult for
Our consultations last for varying amounts of time depending on the kind of issues they cover.
- Major issues of wide interest: 12 weeks (this is the maximum)
- Issues with narrower impact and of more specific interest: eight weeks
- Urgent issues, or minor changes to existing policy, or if we’re following another organisation’s timetable, licence, or other regulatory or statutory requirement: four weeks
There will sometimes be consultations that follow on from earlier ones, or are a product of them. We will try to minimise this, but they’re sometimes unavoidable. We’ll try to keep these down to a four-week consultation period, unless the matter is significant to a wide-cross section of people, or very significant to a narrow group of people.
If a consultation period straddles a holiday period such as Christmas, we might extend it so that people have reasonable time to respond.
We also comply with Cabinet Office guidelines on consulting during election periods, and will not publish major consultations during Purdah unless it is absolutely urgent.
There may be other factors that force us to change the timetable. We’ll always try to keep you abreast of changes and explain our reasons for changing the timetables if we need to.
Pre-consulting and research
Before we do a formal consultation, we might carry out seminars and meetings to get a sense of the shape our consultation should take. We might also use research to help us better understand the area we’re consulting on. This might be in the form of surveys, opinion polls, or focus groups.
Simple, clear consultations
We are always striving to make our consultations simpler, clearer, and easier to understand and respond to. We know that some of our policy areas are complex, and can be highly technical. But we aim to present them as clearly as possible for their intended audience, use Plain English, and make them as short and succinct as we can. Please tell us if you think we could improve.
By statute, we must publish an impact assessment if we are proposing to do something related to our functions under the Gas Act or the Electricity Act and that proposal is important.
Responses and decisions
We will consider all responses we receive before the consultation deadline, focusing especially on the evidence you provide to support your views. We will also take account of comments people make in workshops, seminars or other meetings that we hold during the policy development process.
We prefer to receive responses by email, and the email address to send them to is on the first page of our consultation document. You are also welcome to send any more general feedback about the consultation to the same address. We’ll send you a short response to confirm we’ve received your email and that we’ll consider it among the other responses we get.
We can’t accept any responses that arrive after the deadline, nor can we reply in detail to every submission. But we will demonstrate how they shape our policy thinking when we come to issue our decision or next publication in the process.
What we do next will depend on many factors, including how controversial the issue is, other issues raised in the consultation that we hadn’t previously anticipated, or dramatic changes to external events. We’ll try to keep you informed along the way.
We publish all non-confidential responses on our website, and in our library.
We understand that there are times when you might only respond if we keep your response confidential. So if you want to respond to a consultation confidentially, you can. But you will need to mark your response as confidential and include your reasons. Mark clearly the parts that are confidential, and the parts that are not. Put the confidential material in appendices if you can. This is so we can ensure the bulk of the responses we receive are publishable.
We’ll keep your response itself confidential, but we will publish the number (but not the names) of confidential responses we receive.
Confidentiality is subject to any obligations to disclose information, for example, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
If the information you give in your response contains personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998, the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority will be the data controller. We use the information in responses in performing our statutory functions and in accordance with section 105 of the Utilities Act 2000.
If necessary, we’ll get in touch with you to discuss which parts of the information in your response should be kept confidential, and which can be published, and we might ask for reasons.
We won’t link responses to respondents if we publish a summary of responses, and we will evaluate each response on its own merits without undermining your confidentiality rights.
How to track a consultation or get alerts
Each consultation has a “notify me” function within the page, which you can use to keep track of its progress.
If you click on “notify me” and give us your email address, we will email you when that consultation has changed status from:
Upcoming > Open > Closed (awaiting decision) > Closed (with decision)
We will not use your email details for anything other than to communicate a change in status of a consultation. You can read about our data protection policy.
We also have a daily email alert, which thousands of stakeholders subscribe to. It shows everything that’s been published on our website that day. In addition, we publish a list of consultations on our website, so you can easily see which ones are live, closed, or upcoming.
Our legal duties
We are required to consult where there is an explicit statutory requirement for us to do so, and we must exercise our statutory duties in line with our public law duty to act in a fair and reasonable way. We may also consult if a duty arises under the common law duty/public law principle of procedural fairness. Although there is no general common law duty to consult people who may be affected by a decision, a duty to consult arises if there is a legitimate expectation that we will do so.
A legitimate expectation may arise when:
- There’s enough interest in a matter to found such an expectation (eg where a radical change is proposed, or where a large number of people are likely to be significantly affected, or perhaps where a small number of people are likely to be severely affected to their detriment) ie, a failure to consult would result in conspicuous unfairness.
- A public body has promised to carry out a consultation on the particular issue.
- A public body has previously carried out consultations in similar circumstances.
- The public body has a relevant consultation policy or other policy, and the subject matter falls within the criteria for consultation in that policy.
Many of our consultations have huge sums of money at stake, and those who are materially affected by our decisions have a right to know about this and to make sure we hear their views before we take such decisions.
When we do consult, we must consult fairly. What is fair will depend on the particular circumstances but we must consult in accordance with these four basic principles (the Gunning principles):
- When proposals are still at a formative stage (when the responses to the consultation can still influence the outcome).
- There must be good reasons for particular proposals.
- There must be adequate time for consideration and response.
- Responses must be consciously taken into account.
A good consultation may also set out some options, and explain why we prefer one of them over the others.