Fight to save Sunderland pensioners after rise in winter ‘fuel poverty’ deaths

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COUNCILLORS have stepped up efforts to save lives after deaths linked to fuel poverty shot up during the winter.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet has agreed to enter into a collective switching arrangement to fight energy company price hikes.

Collective switching is when a large group of people use joint buying power to negotiate a better deal from energy suppliers.

The more people who are involved in a switch, the better the deal is likely to be.

The scheme will be open to both household and businesses, and it is hoped it will appeal to those who are not sure how to switch, or do not have time comparing different tariffs,

“I hope we can get that up and running and successful,” Coun Pat Smith told the meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre.

“We’ve had old people die in the city over the year through hypothermia, simply because they cannot afford to turn the heating on.” In December, the Echo revealed that 130 pensioners died across Sunderland because they couldn’t keep warm enough.

Excess winter deaths – those over and above the annual rate – among the over 65s had stood at 76 for a number of years.

However, during 2010/11 these rose to 120.

In 2011/12, deaths jumped by eight per cent to 130.

Sunderland Age Concern director Alan Patchett said: “We’ve been working for quite a while for this and other proposals in relation to fuel poverty in the city.

“This is a move that we welcome and we want everybody to get involved. If we get sufficient numbers, we’ll be able to get a better deal so hopefully it will mean cheaper energy prices.

“We have called a meeting with decision makers later this month where we will discuss fuel poverty and deaths caused by not being able to afford to turn the heating on.

“There has been a rise in the number of people dying. We are now at 130, which is really quite disgraceful.

“We really need to do whatever we can to tackle this issue and help keep people warm during the winter months.”