Turning up the heat

ENERGY bills are going up. After another supplier announced a price hike yesterday , feature writer JAMES MARSTON investigates what effect this will have on one of Suffolk's most vulnerable groups - the elderly.

ENERGY bills are going up. After another supplier announced a price hike yesterday , feature writer JAMES MARSTON investigates what effect this will have on one of Suffolk's most vulnerable groups - the elderly.

TODAY millions of households are facing a winter fuel bill misery, after energy company Powergen announced massive price rises.

As North Sea supplies dwindle, we are growing increasingly reliant on expensive imports from Europe and this week a spokesman for the German-owned supplier said: “As a result of increasing wholesale costs, which have risen by 87pc for both electricity and gas since the beginning of last year, Powergen has announced it is to become the last major energy supplier to raise prices for its residential customers for a second time this year.

“This follows previous moves by British Gas, EDF, npower, ScottishPower and Scottish and Southern Energy.

“Powergen's electricity and gas prices will rise by 9.7pc and 18.4pc respectively for affected residential customers from 21 August 2006.”

The news has been met with grave concern, by organisations which campaign on behalf of the elderly.

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At the head office of Age Concern Suffolk, in Ipswich's Northgate Street, information manager Helen Taylor fears for the county's estimated 160,000 pensioners.

She said: “Statistics show older people spend a larger part of their income on heating than younger people and this news is bound to be a big concern for elderly people.

“Older people should be able to heat their homes without being worried about paying their fuel bill. Many pensioners love on low or fixed incomes and will be particularly hard hit by rises in fuel bills and Age Concern thinks that energy companies must do all they can to protect vulnerable groups such as the elderly from the price increases.”

Powergen's announcement came just two days after the firm's owner EON said profits at its UK arm had plunged 26pc from £413 million to 304 million in the first six months of the year, despite an earlier inflation-busting hike in energy bills.

Helen said: “Pensions haven't risen in line with rising fuel bills and other bills like council tax. The government should increase the basic state pension from £84.25 a week to at least £114 a week so that pensioners have enough money to cover basic living costs such as heating their homes.

“Older people are angry, they feel powerless, there seems nothing they can do and they have no choice. We all have to heat our homes.”

In March, Powergen - which has 8.5 million customer accounts in the UK - lifted the price of gas by 24.pc and electricity by 18.4pc.

Helen said: “Pensioners often find it difficult to take the first step towards asking for help. I think it is difficult for people to admit they are having trouble managing and people are reluctant to claim what benefits they are entitled to.”

Helen said there are three main things that pensioners can do to help themselves:

Make sure your home is well insulated so you get the most benefit from the power you are using.

Shop around for your energy provider.

Older people should make sure they are receiving the benefits they are entitled to.

Suppliers often have schemes, such as discounted insulation, to help older customers.

Nick Horler, managing director of Powergen Retail, said: “We take today's announcement very seriously and have fully considered its impact on our customers.

“Despite this increase, for the average customer, we are still over ten per cent cheaper than British Gas and we remain fully committed to working with our customers to help them reduce their consumption and lessen their impact on the environment.

For example, we offer an online energy efficiency audit which assesses your use of energy and makes recommendations for further improvements, supported by a free helpline giving tailored advice.

“We also continue to invest billions of pounds in the UK to help ensure the lights stay on and homes are warm.”

For vulnerable customers, Powergen helps improve the energy efficiency and income of homes in, or at risk of, fuel poverty through its CaringEnergy scheme7. This will cost the firm £100m over the next three years.

What do you think of the rising cost of gas bills? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

JACK Adams considers himself lucky but he believes more should be done to help pensioners facing ever increasing cost of energy.

The 70-year-old former teacher said: “I'm fortunate. I haven't been retired long enough for my pension to bee eroded by inflation but friends I have wh9 have been retired a good number of years are finding their pensions are falling behind the cost of living.

“They are feeling the pinch.”

Mr Adams, of Sandringham Close, Ipswich, said he shopped around to find the cheapest energy provider.

He said “The cost of fuel just keeps going up and up. But if they are buying gas on an open market and the price keeps going up why is there such a wide divergence of prices? Some companies are significantly cheaper than others.”

Mr Adams, who works as a volunteer for Age Concern Suffolk, added: “Instead of bits and pieces of benefits and help from the government we should have a decent pension. Some people are reluctant to claim benefits because of their pride and others are put of by the complexity of applying. There are a number of people who fall into the trap of not quite being eligible to claim.”

The main benefit paid to all people over 60 to assist with the cost of heating is Winter Fuel Payment. This is between £100 and £300 depending on your circumstances and is paid before Christmas 2006.

Older people on pension credit may also be entitled to a Cold Weather Payment of £8.50 a week if the weather is particularly cold during a seven day period.

Weblinks:

The local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre telephone number is 0800 512 012

The Warm Front Grant Helpline is 0800 316 2814. This is the Government funded grant scheme which helps older people on benefits to improve their insultation and heating

www.ageconcernsuffolk.org.uk

For advice call Age Concern Suffolk on 01473 257039.

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