Anger over energy firm's profits

ENERGY giant British Gas came under fire from pensioner groups and MPs in East Anglia last night after it emerged its parent company was heading for a 43% rise in profits.

Hollie-Rae Merrick

ENERGY giant British Gas came under fire from pensioner groups and MPs in East Anglia last night after it emerged its parent company was heading for a 43% rise in profits.

Campaigners said the firm was making “a killing” while many pensioners were left struggling to pay high energy bills over the winter months.

They called for the company to cut energy bills and offer more help to the most vulnerable people.

Centrica has revealed profits of over �1.8billion, with British Gas raking in over �540million despite a 7 per cent fall in energy consumption.

Chris Brooks, secretary of the Suffolk Pensioners Association, said: “It is hard for pensioners during these winter months because it means that a higher percentage of the state pension is spent on energy.

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“Energy prices have a great impact on pensioners because during these cold times the heat is essential otherwise hypothermia becomes a massive problem.

“It's an endless circle because the state pension is below the official poverty level and it just makes it so hard for people.

“Poor little, frail old pensioners just don't really stand much of a chance.”

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, said: “I think this indicates how unfair life is.

“It shows the abstract failures of this government by highlighting these private industries are making a killing while others suffer.

“It won't just be pensioners that suffer but it will also be the millions of children who live in poverty in this country.”

Tim Yeo, Conservative MP for Suffolk South, agreed that energy costs were increasingly becoming an issue for older generations.

He said: “Energy prices are a real problem and they are going to rise in the next five years - so issues will become a lot worse.

“It is the unavoidable outcome that costs will become more expensive as energy supplies become greener.

“A certain amount can be done, such as insulation, but people really do need cash payments and assistance - I'm very concerned about this issue.”

British Gas has also revealed that wholesale gas prices are set to increase from 31p to 49p a therm for the winter period of 2010/11 and could reach up to 57p in the following winter months.

Wholesale prices are fixed around 18 months to two years in advance, which suppliers argue means that there are often substantial time lags before they pass on changes to customers.

A spokesperson for Centrica said: “We cut our gas and electric prices earlier this year by 10 per cent which is more than any other provider.

“By doing so, we have become the cheapest supplier in electricity only and the second cheapest for dual fuel - this is why we have gained 200,000 more customers since the end of June.

“We have a special tariff particularly for vulnerable people and those with a lower income - this has been widely available and is currently being used by 500,000 of our customers.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “Because of significant increases in fuel bills, we are determined to redouble our efforts to help the most vulnerable.

“We will build on the measures we've already brought forward, including the �20billion on benefits and programmes, without which 800,000 more people would have found themselves in fuel poverty.

“We plan to legislate to give new powers to the regulator to take action, make social tariffs mandatory not optional, and we are planning new measures on energy efficiency targeted at the poorest.”