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Italy fines energy firms for hiking bills last winter

AFP
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Italy fines energy firms for hiking bills last winter
The oil company Eni was one of six companies fined by Italy's competition watchdog on Wednesday. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The Italian regulator has fined multiple energy companies for their use of "aggressive commercial practices" resulting in higher bills for consumers during winter 2022, it said on Wednesday.

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Italy's competition watchdog on Wednesday fined six energy suppliers more than 15 million euros ($16.3 million) for increasing consumer prices despite a law aimed at stabilising electricity and gas bills.

The competition and market authority said in a statement that the firms had used "aggressive commercial practices" that had the effect of "conditioning consumers to accept price increases"  from August 10, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

The largest fines were imposed on Italian energy giants Enel (10 million euros) and Eni (five million euros).

They both "unilaterally changed prices for more than four million consumers based on contract clauses allowing the companies to decide at their own discretion if and when to change the tariff", the regulator said.

The other four companies - Acea Energia, Iberdrola Clienti Italia, Dolomiti Energia and Edison Energia - received fines ranging from 560,000 euros to 5,000 euros, their behaviour having been judged by the competition watchdog as less serious.

READ ALSO: How much are energy prices in Italy rising this autumn?

After energy prices spiked following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Italian government of Mario Draghi banned unilateral price increases for the supply of electricity and gas from August 10, 2022, to June 30, 2023, the authority said.

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Despite this, the six companies fined "sent clients letters instructing them to accept price changes in this period, resulting in significant increases in bills", the authority said.

In statement, Enel defended its actions, saying it had acted "in full compliance" with all regulations.

The company "limited itself to carrying out towards its customers mere renewals of the expiring economic conditions, as provided for in the contract," it said.

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