Call for action on soaring energy bills to protect Norfolk’s elderly

PUBLISHED: 07:47 18 October 2011 | UPDATED: 12:45 18 October 2011

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP; picture by Adrian Judd; for EDP

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP; picture by Adrian Judd; for EDP

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Community leaders and the public of Norwich have joined prime minister David Cameron in demanding measures to reduce household energy bills.

Expert advice

Adam Aiken, editor of MyMoney24.co.uk said the pressure from the government on the energy industry was all very well, but the onus remained on consumers to shop around for the best deals.

“More than half of us have never switched suppliers, so perhaps it’s no surprise that so many people are paying through the nose for gas and electricity,” he said.

“Paying by monthly direct debit is usually cheaper, and if you use both gas and electricity then it is probably best to take both supplies from the same provider. Meanwhile, if you can opt for an online account, there are usually savings to be had there, too.”

There are a number of independent switching services that can find you a good deal and manage the switching process for you.

“Prices have gone up across the board, so anything you can do to bring them down a little bit has to be worth it,” Mr Aiken said.

Mr Cameron yesterday held a summit meeting with the chief executives of the “big six” energy suppliers, along with community groups and watchdog Ofgem.

The prime minister told them it was “absolutely vital” that consumers struggling already with rising food and petrol prices were not also hit by higher fuel bills.

Energy firm bosses agreed a number of measures and millions of customers will receive letters from the government offering advice on how to reduce costs by switching to different payment methods and taking advantage of free or subsidised insulation.

Suppliers have also agreed to put a message on bills this winter encouraging people to check whether rivals offer a better deal and to provide better information to help them switch.

Last week, Age UK warned that fuel poverty could hit Norfolk harder than elsewhere in the country, because of its higher than average elderly population.

Phil Wells, chief executive of Age UK Norwich, said last night that the core issues which needed addressing were of a long-term rise in energy prices and the fact that the poorest often had to pay more for their energy per unit than the richest.

“Energy costs will go up and up and up, there’s no doubting that as we’re running out of oil and gas, and it seems to me that we are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at the moment by changing the billing.

“We must now address that we’ve got big problems for people on low incomes keeping warm and we need completely different ways to resolve that.”

He said that current housing stock would be considered “laughable” in many European countries, adding that the real solution was to build new energy efficient homes and not draw on a stock that dates back to the Victorian years.

He added: “The current range of home insulation techniques can save a good 10pc of costs and that’s nice but it’s not a game changer. We need to half our costs and that’s by putting in new build housing that’s more energy efficient.”

The Evening News went out on to the streets of Norwich yesterday to ask people for their views. Some said action was needed against the suppliers, but others said it was also down to the consumer to take acton.

In our urvey of 20 people, 16 respondents said they were working to lower their energy bills this winter and four said they were not.

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, called for more working together between central and local government on the issue, which she did not thing was completely understood.

She said: I think that a large sector of the government doesn’t have a clear idea of what fuel poverty is like and a large number of people are increasingly facing fuel poverty.

“Until they totally understand what an impact it has on their lives, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere.”

In recent months, Norwich City Council has struck deals with energy company Carillion to carry out £2.4m worth of work on homes which will see solar panels and insulation installed.

It also agreed a similar scheme in July to work with British Gas to invest more than £800,000 into improving the energy efficiency of homes in Bowthorpe.

Mrs Arthur said: “I take on the point from David Cameron people need to use their energy wisely, but I don’t think the people who are struggling that I’ve met are being profligate- they’re doing their best to make ends meet.

“It would be good to see central government supporting us rather than beating us up which is how it feels.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith described the government’s move as “helpful” and said: “I know most people I speak to in Norwich are worried about their bills, so it is sensible for government to get energy suppliers and Ofgem round a table to see how consumers can be helped.”

Norwich South MP Simon Wright defended the government’s moves and pointed to the unveiling of a programme named Green Deal next year that will allow people to borrow money off future energy bills to increase the energy efficiency of their homes.

He said: “The vast majority of housing stock is several decades old and we need real action to ensure that they’re brought up to high standards.”

Have you got a story for the Evening News? Call reporter John Owens on 01603 772439 or email john.owens@archant.co.uk

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