Poorer homes must be energy smart to cut winter costs

Households in the UK could save around £1 billion by improving energy efficiency and switching fuel suppliers, the Government has advised at an energy consumer summit this week.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Energy Minister Mike O’Brien have urged consumers, in particular more vulnerable ones that spend large amounts of their wages on energy bills, to take advantage of the many ways to save money on fuel costs this winter.

“We know that for many families fuel bills are a significant part of their weekly outgoings, and we need to do more to help the most vulnerable consumers benefit from big savings that are out there,” Ms Hewitt stated.

Ministers have identified several ways for UK residents to make considerable savings on gas and electricity bills, adding that first time switchers could save up to £100.

“Half of all households have never switched energy supplier, despite the fact that there are big savings still to be made,” Ms Hewitt added. “Our message is simple – why pay more for your gas and electricity that you need to?”

She said that shopping around to find the best energy provider, paying bills by direct debit instead of cash or cheque, and installing energy efficiency systems such as cavity wall or loft insulation were some of the easiest ways to save some cash.

The energy consumer summit was a call to action for Government, industry and regulators to raise awareness of the savings and support available to more vulnerable households, according to Mr O’Brien.

“Improved winter benefits and energy efficiency grants since 1997 have helped cut by two-thirds the number of fuel poor homes,” he said. “But as winter starts to bite we have to ensure that the poorest in particular know what steps they can take to reduce their fuel bills further.”

The awareness raising campaign Energy Smart launched at the summit is endorsed and supported by consumer watchdog Energywatch, industry regulator Ofgem and Government officials at the DTI.

“At a time of rising energy prices it is important that all energy customers are fully aware of the choices available to them to help reduce their fuel costs,” Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem stated.

However, despite recent price hikes in the energy sector (see related story), figures from the DTI show that, in real terms, domestic prices are still lower than in 1997 (electricity by 14% and gas by 1%), and are still cheaper than before privitisation.

By Jane Kettle

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