Suffolk: Energy bill hike met with consumer objection

THOUSANDS of British Gas customers in the region face mounting fuel costs after the energy giant announced a 7% hike in utility fees.

Bill payers and consumer rights campaigners have criticised the price hike, which they say will harm the most vulnerable householders, despite British Gas vowing not to apply the increase to its poorest subscribers.

Household bills for gas and electricity will increase by an average 7% from December 10, which will amount to an increase of �1.50 on the average weekly dual-fuel bill.

British Gas, which is owned by Centrica, said rising wholesale prices had forced it to lift the bills of customers on standard and variable tariffs.

Managing director Phil Bentley said: “We know that rising energy prices come at a difficult time for many in Britain. That’s why we are not raising prices for our vulnerable customers, such as the poorest pensioners, until after this winter.”

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But consumer groups have reacted to the announcement with dismay. Clifford Horne, chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners’ Association, said: “What is worrying for people on a fixed income is that bills keep rising in excess of pension increases, sending a lot more people into fuel poverty.

“I would advise people to get online and think about changing providers. Otherwise they will be forced to cut back elsewhere on things like food.”

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British Gas said it would protect the worse-off this winter by not imposing the price rise on the company’s 300,000 most vulnerable customers until Spring. Vulnerable customers on the “Essentials” package will have prices held until April 1, 2011.

Helen Taylor, Information Manager from Age UK Suffolk, said: “The news that energy prices are set to increase comes at a time when many people in later life are already worrying about how to pay their heating costs.

“With recent figures showing that the number of older households in fuel poverty in England has increased to 1.7 million, rising energy bills are putting enormous pressure on many older people’s finances, with some saying they live in just one room or stay in bed in an attempt to reduce costs.”

Age UK Suffolk has launched its Spread the Warmth campaign to help Suffolk people in later life stay warmer this winter. For more information and advice contact the local help desks in Ipswich (01473 257039) Bury St Edmunds (01284 757750) or Lowestoft (01502 586308).

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