Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pensioner Fuel Bills A Disgrace

Pensioner fuel bills 'a disgrace'
By Paul Lewis
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

A female pensioner sitting in front of an electric heater at home
One in five elderly respondents said there were in fuel poverty
Half of Britain's pensioners are said to be cutting back on other things to pay annual fuel bills averaging £1,100.

A survey by energy comparison website uSwitch indicated that two million over-60s spent more than a tenth of their income on fuel.

One in five were concerned their health would suffer as electricity and gas price rises outstripped pensions.

Experts warn the government may not meet its pledge that every pensioner could afford a warm home by 2010.

We need action now to put an end to this national disgrace
Ann Robinson, uSwitch

uSwitch's consumer policy director Ann Robinson told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme: "The government will not meet its target for taking vulnerable people out of fuel poverty by 2010.

"Even with the price cuts we are seeing there are still going to be well over a million who can't afford a warm home.

"That is why we need action now to put an end to this national disgrace."

Money Box listener Paulene explained how she coped.

"I have it on the lowest, lowest temperature I possibly can for a little bit in the evening," she said.

"My children tell me how cold my house is. I don't even like cooking and using all that gas. I'd rather quickly warm food up in the microwave.

"It's a worry at the back of your mind all the time."

Superhuman effort

The chairman of the government's own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, Peter Lehmann, agrees that the government will find it tough to meet its target.

"2010 is only three years away," he told the programme.

"You can't put in enough energy efficiency measures in time. Therefore as well as stepping up these measures, prices must be reduced for vulnerable groups and a superhuman effort made to improve the take-up of existing benefits such as Pension Credit."

In the uSwitch survey, carried out by pollsters ICM, one in five elderly respondents were in fuel poverty, defined by the government as spending at least 10% of their income on fuel bills.

The winter fuel allowance should be means-tested
Peter, Leeds

Nearly one in three (30%) were cutting back on essentials to pay their bills, and nearly one in four (23%) were turning down the temperature to keep their bills down.

In 2001 the government published a legally binding "Fuel Poverty Strategy" which committed it to eradicating fuel poverty for vulnerable groups including pensioners by 2010.

In a statement the Department for Food and Rural Affairs admitted that more than three million people were still in fuel poverty and that "the attainment of our fuel poverty targets by the dates set out... remains very challenging".

The point is that it should not be "very challenging" at all - if David, Ian and the rest of the Defra team got their act together about EEC3, supported Ofgem more (why is it that if wholesale gas prices have gone down by 35% plus but the consumer is only offered a 17% cut in their gas bill) and actually selected a main contractor/programme manager for the Warm Front scheme that wasn't allowed to profit so hugely from a grant scheme that is there primarily to assist vulnerable groups (let alone award itself up to 33% of the installations at harmonised labour rates that are frankly ludicrous).

It is really easy to take cost out an over-complex supply chain and its certainly not rocket science to implement some really and simple cost effective, basic changes that would save on cost and free up more grant money to help more vulnerable people.

With regards to the Warm Front Rebate scheme, why didnt Defra allow the EEAC's to manage this funding pot ? Why give it to a managing agent that is then going to charge £50 per job as a processing fee - charged to the installers but ultimately the contractors will simply add this cost to their quote on a scheme that is aimed solely at the over 60s populus?

Despite the BBC Watchdog reports and campaigning by various Groups including the NEA and EST, STILL the Warm Front grant installers are not allowed to provide the materials for the Warm Front heating grant work that they generate.

The Managing Agent for the Warm Front scheme is apparently instructed to procure all its equipment for heating works for Warm Front via the Plumb Centres rather than being able to purchase direct with the actual manufacturers. I understand that there needs to be a network for supply and storage but within the approved contractors there is certainly sufficient warehousing and an existing infrastructure that can more than adequately support the programme and take unnecessary cost out of the process?

The same Managing Agent has now announced its intention to float on the LSE ! Full details direct from the Eaga website to follow.

There comes a time when organisations need to be brought to account and prevented from being allowed to take advantage of their position. Is there anyone able to bring such companies to account? The entire existing end-to-end process currently appears to be littered with arrogance and complacency and no one seems to be monitoring the monster that is coming over the hill?

Perhaps consumers and people of worth and influence should simply start to "vote with their feet"?

Make Good Choices David and Co - stop making mistakes with expert advice and finger pointing and take some personal responsiblity for a change - the buck stops with you.

From Your Friend The Energy Angel


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