Energy companies will be forced to introduce smartphone-readable codes to help consumers easily compare their bills against offers from competitors under plans announced today.

The Government said it was taking action to bring in Quick Response (QR) codes because suppliers had been dragging their feet over introducing them voluntarily.

It is the latest broadside against the industry by Energy Secretary Ed Davey amid continued controversy over rising household gas and electricity tariffs.

Mr Davey said: "We're determined to make energy markets work better for consumers - and despite all the evidence showing that QR codes on bills would make a real difference to people, energy companies still haven't done anything about it.

"That's why we're acting to make sure people have a quick, straightforward way to compare the best deal for them with a simple swipe of their phone.

"With so many of us using smart phones and tablets nowadays it would be strange if we weren't using the latest technology to help us save money at home."

QR codes will allow smartphone users to upload information such as their current tariff name and consumption level so that they can find out if better offers are available elsewhere, for example by using a price comparison website.

Announcing a consultation today, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said that despite a feasibility study giving QR codes the green light, there had been no voluntary move by the industry to introduce them.

The department said it would use existing legislation to modify energy company licences to have the codes introduced as part of energy bills.

It is the latest measure designed to make it simpler for customers to switch suppliers and to simplify tariffs.

Energy bills and suppliers' profits were brought to the centre of the political agenda last autumn when Labour pledged a freeze on tariff if it wins a 2015 election.

More recently, Mr Davey has focused attention on the higher profit margins for domestic gas supply compared with electricity and called for regulators to contemplate radical measures such as the break-up of British Gas.

Energy UK, which represents suppliers, defended their record on helping people to understand bills and switch.

"Energy companies are working hard to streamline tariffs, improve customer information and encourage choice so people have all they need to compare and switch," it said.

The body said that around quarter of a million customers switch every month and nearly a million did last November and December alone.