One in four Sunderland households hit by fuel poverty

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THOUSANDS of Wearsiders are struggling to make ends meet as energy bills soar.

The Echo can reveal that almost one in four Sunderland households is in fuel poverty as prices increased by at least £160 per family in 2011.

But young families, single parents and the elderly are the ones who are feeling the worst of the pinch.

The UK’s biggest supplier British Gas angered customers last week when it announced profits of £1.9million a day for the first six months of the year, with prices set to increase further next winter.

Sunderland MP Bridget Phillipson, said: “It is unacceptable that energy companies are putting large profits before customers.

“Many families and pensioners across Wearside will face an impossible choice between heating their homes or eating properly and paying their rent.

“The 23 per cent rise in profits from British Gas comes at the same time that the company has announced prices will likely rise again this winter.

She added: “I have written to the big six energy companies and will continue to press both them and the government to take action.”

Age UK is a charity that is helping Wearsiders combat rising energy costs and is the largest local independent charity, helping more than 2,000 people a week.

Alan Patchett, Director of Age UK Sunderland, is helping those experiencing fuel poverty.

He said: “The rising energy costs are quite extreme and with the recession, people are finding it harder to be able to afford necessities such as heating and it is worrying for the future.

“Older people have a very restricted income, and for some it has got to the point where they have to choose whether to eat or have heating. It is shocking that in 21st century Britain that this is happening.

“We advise people on the benefits they might be able to claim, as well as energy-saving tips and ways to be more cost effective. People come to us with debt problems and we have people at Age UK who can help.”

Coun Peter Wood advised struggling Wearsiders to shop around for energy suppliers.

He said: “I would advise people to shop around for suppliers. We should not accept such high bills if another company is offering cheaper.

He added: “We have companies such as Age UK which provide invaluable support to people in our area and specialist help. They are a credit to the area and I’d advise anyone struggling to seek their advice.”

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho