‘More must be done to stop winter deaths in Sunderland’

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CHARITY bosses and campaigners in Sunderland today gave a mixed response to the news that power firms have pledged to pass on savings from a shake-up of energy levies to hard-pressed households.

British Gas will cut dual-fuel bills by an average of £53 from January 1, less than half the increase imposed on customers last month, with other energy firms making similar announcements.

SSE is expecting a dual-fuel saving of around four per cent before the end of March, equivalent to about £50, and Npower does not plan to increase energy prices before spring 2015, unless there are increases in wholesale costs or network charges.

Alan Patchett, director of Age UK Sunderland, gave his backing to the move but urged ministers to do more.

“I welcome any measure that is going to reduce energy bills, but this is a drop in the ocean and will do little to help the thousands of people in this city who are in fuel poverty and are struggling to keep themselves warm this winter,” he said.

“It is a scandal that the number of excess winter deaths is rising at the same time that energy company profits continue to rise.

“The Government must do more to help consumers.”

The announcement comes after Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that the costs of some energy-efficiency and social schemes will be rolled back in the Autumn Statement.

It also marks a concerted effort to regain the initiative on the energy issue, which has dominated the political agenda since Ed Miliband promised to freeze prices for 20 months if he wins the general election.

The Government said it will cut the cost of the energy company obligation (ECO), an insulation scheme delivered by major energy suppliers, in a move that should shave £30-£35 off bills, on average, next year.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change also announced a rebate on the warm homes discount, which helps those in fuel poverty. This will save the average customer £12 on their bill for the next two years, although the subsidy will instead be met by the taxpayer.

Electricity companies will take voluntary action to reduce network costs in 2014/15, funding a one-off reduction of around £5 on electricity bills.

Sean Fahey, regional secretary of the North East Pensioners Association, said: “This is a tiny amount, a tiny saving, that won’t make any difference.

“The Government is the only group which can make a difference. They influence the big companies, the welfare system and local authorities.

“They need to do more.”

Ian Burdon, chairman of the Energy Leadership Council North East, also queried the transfer of ‘green taxes’ to general taxation.

“It should be remembered that many, if not all, renewable technology producing electricity will always tend to be more expensive than the large central power stations simply because of economies of scale,” he said. “If we want green power, we will have to pay extra for the privilege.

“This then begs the question of the mandate that this or the next Government has to increase general taxation to pay for more expensive methods of producing a basic commodity which is essential to life as we know it? Has anyone asked the voters?”