Anger as gas bills set to soar

MILLIONS of households were last night reeling from the “bleakest day yet” in more than two years of spiralling energy prices.Consumer groups warned thousands more people would be plunged into fuel poverty after the UK's biggest supplier added another 22% to electricity and gas tariffs - leaving the average combined bill above £1,000 for the first time.

MILLIONS of households were last night reeling from the “bleakest day yet” in more than two years of spiralling energy prices.

Consumer groups warned thousands more people would be plunged into fuel poverty after the UK's biggest supplier added another 22% to electricity and gas tariffs - leaving the average combined bill above £1,000 for the first time.

British Gas owner Centrica blamed the price rise on the wholesale cost of gas, which it said had been affected by “anti-competitive” practices in Europe.

But customers were last night urged to shop around after comparison services labelled British Gas prices as the most expensive of the UK's suppliers.


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Energywatch described it as the “bleakest day yet” for price rises and said British Gas customers are paying an average of 70% more than they were than at the beginning of 2003.

Centrica is the fifth supplier to raise prices or announce new tariffs this year, following a 14.7% rise in gas bills from EDF earlier this week.

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Despite the rises, Centrica said it would still end up shouldering some of the burden of higher wholesale costs, which are the highest in Europe.

Previous price rises prompted around 445,000 customers to leave British Gas in the first six months of 2005 while one million customers switched in 2004.

Help the Aged said an extra 200,000 pensioners are pushed into fuel poverty with a 10% increase in energy prices. But the figures are expected to be higher than average in Suffolk due to the greater elderly population.

Mervyn Kohler, from the charity, said: “Much more can and must be done to protect older people from fuel poverty. No older person should have to make the choice between heating and eating.”

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said it had already received calls from concerned pensioners, who receive an average of £109.80 in state pension.

She said: “We have got the cutbacks in social care and the increases in council tax and now this big British Gas price rise. It is all coming together when it has already been a difficult winter period for older people.”

Mrs Savage said the hike would be felt most by pensioners who are the least mobile and for whom it would be “dangerous” if they do not have their heating on all the time.

She called for the Government to put up the £200 winter fuel allowance to take into account the price hike. British Gas said it would provide 300,000 winter rebate payments for next winter, totalling £90 for those with dual fuel.

But Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said: “There is no question. This is going to have a dramatic effect on lower paid workers and pensioners.

“Inflation is no more than 3% but this rise is 22%. We cannot expect pension increases of more than inflation.”

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, added: “I am afraid this is proving to be a difficult time for people on fixed incomes. There have been huge cumulative increases in council tax, we have the second highest petrol tax in Europe and now there is this rise in heating costs.”

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