Anger at new 22% energy bill hike

HOMEOWNERS in East Anglia faced a fresh financial blow yesterday after an energy firm revealed it was hiking gas and electricity prices by up to 22%.

Russell Claydon

HOMEOWNERS in East Anglia faced a fresh financial blow yesterday after an energy firm revealed it was hiking gas and electricity prices by up to 22%.

There were claims last night that the move by EDF Energy could plunge thousands more households in Suffolk and Essex into “fuel poverty”.

EDF blamed the 17% gas price rise and 22% electricity hike on the rising price of oil and its subsequent impact on wholesale energy costs.

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But community groups and charities across the region warned last night the rises were a step too far.

Last night Adam Scorer, of Energywatch, said they would be carefully examining the link between oil prices and wholesale gas prices to see if the linked rises were unfair.

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He said: “If, as is likely, EDF's fellow energy suppliers follow suit then fuel poverty will be visiting more than one million new households and the number of pensioners and families in extreme fuel poverty (20% or more of their income) will soar.”

Roger Turkinton, director of operations at rural campaign group Suffolk Acre, also voiced his concern, adding: “It is something we feel the rural communities get hit with more.”

He said figures released by the Centre for Sustainable Energy showed typically 7% of all households in rural Suffolk - around 12,000 - were already in fuel poverty, while the figure is less than 5% in urban areas.

Fuel poverty is classed by the Government as those who are spending 10% or more of their incomes on fuel bills.

Mr Turkinton said he expected the figures to dramatically increase as fuel prices continued to rise.

Helen Taylor, information manager at Age Concern Suffolk, said: “This news will come as a bitter blow to many local pensioners who are already struggling to cope with household bills which have risen very rapidly over the last year.

“With more than 4.5 million people in the UK already living in fuel poverty, these announcements will place many more thousands of people into this bracket. This is a disgraceful situation and the Government should be introducing long term reforms to address this.”

She added: “As an emergency measure to help alleviate the problem this winter, the Government and energy companies should be working together to offer 'fuel vouchers' to the poorest pensioners. But as part of a wider package of reforms, the Government should also introduce mandatory social tariffs to put an end to the scandal of poorer customers on pre-payment meters being charged more than others.”

Iain Duncan a supervisor at the Mildenhall based Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said the price rises announced yesterday were “disgraceful”.

“The major danger here is people who own pre-pay meters are under the impression they can charge their card up and be up-to-date with their payments,” he said. “But the companies are very slow to recalibrate the meters and if this is coming into effect immediately people are going to get into major arrears.

“We have had a few cases at Brandon recently where this has happened and it is often hundreds, sometimes thousands. It can take them a while to calm them down for us to explain it and the worse thing is it is not their fault.”

EDF Energy said their second price rise in 2008 was due to wholesale energy prices rising to record highs, with increases of up to 70% seen since January.

The company promised yesterday to give a 15% discount on those 100,000 most in-need customers currently on social tariffs, but could not tell the EADT how many customers this included in Suffolk and Essex.

Among the other measures to come out in the rise announcement was a pledge of £74 million on improving housing insulation to reduce bills.

The Government announced the first details of a package of measures to help alleviate fuel poverty at the end of May, which works on the principle of sharing data of people on low incomes with the energy companies.

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