Suffolk: Anger over British Gas profit

A CHARITY for older people in Suffolk voiced its concern last night after British Gas unveiled record profits just weeks after it increased bills amid the coldest winter in 100 years.

The UK’s biggest energy supplier, which has nearly 16million customer accounts, posted a 24% rise in operating profits to �742m in 2010, two months after household bills were increased by around 7%.

Age UK Suffolk called the profits “excessive” and said the latest news would provide “cold comfort” to customers in Suffolk.

Chief executive Daphne Savage hoped energy regulator Ofgem would review the profit margins of major energy suppliers, adding: “Customers are already having to cope with the 7% increase on British Gas prices imposed just two months ago, and will recently have received bills for one of the coldest winter quarters in several years.

“We know that older customers have cut down or are rationing their energy usage this winter and we are concerned that older people are risking their health to avoid receiving heating bills they can’t afford.”

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The record takings for British Gas has prompted calls for Ofgem to refer the entire sector to the Competition Commission.

But Cliff Horne, chair of Suffolk Pensioners’ Association, said legislation change was needed, claiming regulators were “toothless tigers”. He added: “Older people are having to choose between eating and heating.

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“Pensioners spend more on fuel because they spend more time in the home. If they have to spend more than 10% of their fixed income on bills, they are in fuel poverty. It’s really quite serious.

“The Government either needs to legislate or increase the fuel allowance – which they actually plan to reduce.”

Centrica, the company that owns British Gas, also revealed record operating profits of �2.4 billion – up 29%.

It has blamed price hikes on soaring wholesale prices and said prices were 0.5% lower at the end of 2010 than at the start of the year.

Research by price comparison site showed the average annual household bill for a dual-fuel British Gas customer is now �1,097 – �276 more than on the January 1 2008, but still �79 cheaper than its average bill of �1,176 in January 2009.

Mrs Savage urged older people worried about high fuel costs to call the charity’s help centres in Ipswich on 01473 257039, Bury St Edmunds on 01284 757750 or Lowestoft on 01502 586308.

She concluded: “What older people absolutely must not do is to turn their heating down or off when they most need to keep warm.”

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