Energy bosses have admitted to poor customer service, confusing bills and badly handled complaints in interviews conducted by a polling and research company.
Senior executives including bosses from some of the Big Six suppliers as well as smaller providers conceded that their treatment of consumers had made them vulnerable to attacks by politicians, a study compiled by YouGov found.
The findings, revealed in The Times newspaper, come after it was announced last week that the Big Six are to face a full-scale competition investigation after regulator Ofgem said profits in the sector quadrupled to more than £1 billion in three years.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has also pledged to freeze energy bills for almost two years if Labour wins power at the General Election in 2015.
YouGov said c hief executives and other senior figures from SSE, E.ON UK and RWE npower, as well as some smaller companies, took part in the private interviews.
In separate polling findings from YouGov, more than half of people, 51%, claimed to have turned the heating down or off in the past year to be able to pay their gas or electricity bills.
YouGov said its results show trust in the utilities sector was lower even than in the banking sector, with both rated among the lowest out of 26 sectors.
The chief executives' comments were anonymised and included in the report being prepared for a conference entitled Energy, Politics and the Consumer, to be held in London on Thursday.
The interviews also revealed that senior figures believe politicians are jeopardising investment in energy infrastructure and putting the lights at risk of going out.
"As one would expect, there is moaning at politicians: practitioners believe that behind closed doors the politicians understand and even admit that a price freeze would be disruptive and unrealistic, and it's been mere opportunism to invent an ogre that they can then pretend to slay," the report said.
However, the report says that industry figures also conceded they must bear some of the blame. "The industry also accepts that it has itself 'prepared the ground' for what happened: billing was often confusing, never transparent, and complaints were handled badly."