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Beating big chill without a big bill

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Shorter days and frosty nights – the British winter will soon be upon us, and if the mere thought of the coming icy months makes you shudder, then you’ll probably be turning up the heating faster than Usain Bolt running for a bus.

Yet prices from the main energy suppliers are sky-rocketing.

A hike of between 11 and 18 per cent for electricity and gas means the average household fuel bill now stands at £1,300 a year.

And reports say that the ‘big six’ energy companies – British Gas, EDF, Npower, E.ON, Scottish Power, and Scottish & Southern – are making around £125 profit per customer, compared to £15 a few months ago.

It’s an increase of more than 700 per cent, which seems particularly galling to many people, considering job losses, pay freezes and the pervading feeling of economic gloom.

Energy regulator Ofgem, which highlighted the figures in a report earlier this month, has said that the big six should be operating more competitively to bring prices down.
It also wants more clarity and a streamlining of the 400 or so different price tariffs available.

Ali Abbas, climate campaigner for Manchester Friends of the Earth, says the increases cannot be justified.

“It’s a national scandal that the big six energy companies are making billions in profits while hundreds of people die each winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes,” he says.

“We need urgent action to break the stranglehold of these companies and wean us off dirty, expensive fossil fuels.”

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has launched the Final Demand campaign, calling on the government to make the big six invest in affordable, renewable energy sources rather than continuing with oil and gas supplies.

To open up the debate on energy costs and efficiency, the environmental campaign group also wants more home-owners to be aware of energy performance certificates (EPC).

These offer information on the assessment of a property’s energy-efficiency, along with tips on reducing carbon emissions and thereby saving energy.

All homes sold or rented require one, but Manchester FoE says that research it has carried out shows that not all estate agents tell their clients about EPCs.

Mr Abbas says: “It’s very disappointing that so few estate agents are making it easy for people to see how energy-efficient the properties they’re selling or renting are.

“If you’re thinking of moving, make sure you ask to see an EPC, as choosing a more energy-efficient home could save you hundreds of pounds a year on your energy bills.”

John Halman, managing director of estate agents Gascoigne Halman, says that his company does discuss energy efficiency with clients.

“Of course we discuss these issues with our clients and we want them to get the best deals, though I would say it’s not the most important thing people think of when they’re moving house. Some ways of making a house more energy-efficient, such as installing solar panels, has a high capital outlay so it can take years for the home-owner to recoup that cost.”

Mr Halman, who is also the north west regional residential spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, adds: “Some aspects of the EPC are not entirely clear, and the government is considering changing it.

“I would welcome more clarity on it.”

Article published in Manchester Evening News, 27th October 2011.


To sign our petition to save the Feed-in Tariff and rein in the Big Six energy companies, visit the Friends of the Earth website.

For information on free/discounted insulation in Greater Manchester, call 0800 512 012 or visit the Get Me Toasty website.


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