From rational to relational: How energy poor households engage with the British retail energy market

Pepa Ambrosio-Albala, Lucie Middlemiss, Anne Owen, Tom Hargreaves, Nick Emmel, Jan Gilbertson, Angela Tod, Carolyn Snell, Caroline Mullen, Noel Longhurst, Ross Gillard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


In the sociological tradition, markets are understood to be constituted of social relations: relations of trust, friendship, power and dependence, which have moral and emotional qualities. In this paper, we explore how people in energy poor households construct the energy market and its impact on energy policy. Drawing on secondary analysis of a large collection of qualitative interviews on the lived experience of energy poverty carried out from 2003 to 2018 (n = 197 interviews and 20 selected), and the results of an OFGEM quantitative survey on consumer engagement released in 2018, we document the experience of the energy poor as actors in the British retail energy market. We uncover a number of challenges and opportunities facing energy poor participants in the market: having access to good quality information about suppliers, energy tariffs and grants, and having the skills and resources to act on this is important, without these it can be difficult for people to take action. In explaining people’s engagement with the market, we draw on the concept of ‘socio-economic attachments’, showing how a supportive network of family and friends, and people’s trust of and resulting loyalty to their energy supplier mediate their engagement. These findings lead us to relational explanations of the retail energy market, with related policy recommendations: if we are to aim for people to act ‘rationally’, they will need support to navigate the market from intermediaries.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101765
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date3 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Cite this