Sharp rise in energy prices is set to hit the most vulnerable this winter

As the majority of the “big six” energy providers announce inflation-busting winter price hikes from next month, concerns have been voiced over a “massive issue” of fuel poverty across the Herald and Gazette area.

According to charity AGE UK, the electricity and gas increases – in some cases by nearly 10 per cent, could leave many less well-off pensioners feeling forced to choose between putting their heating on or buying essential supplies.

Diane Henderson, chief executive of West Sussex AGE UK said: “Many people are worried they cannot pay their bills - we have never taken so many calls from people worried about debts.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

“Elderly people are being more cautious and there is a huge issue of hypothermia among older people. There is a very real concern from those who just have state pensions.” She added that its winter Bobble Day campaigns have been effective in raising awareness, as has its general financial advice services.

Studies nationally have revealed 70 percent of electricity and gas customers in the south east use just one firm, EDF, which raised its prices by a huge 15 per cent last year. It is widely anticipated to follow suit with its rivals by increasing tariffs from next month.

Despite initiatives to assist the most vulnerable including the Citizens Advice Bureau’s newly-launched Big Energy Saving Week, plus West Sussex County Council’s measures (see story opposite), the energy price rises come against a backdrop of an estimated 12,000 homes across Worthing and Adur designated as being in “fuel poverty”. This relates to households spending more than 10 percent of their outgoings on energy costs.

Douglas Jull, of Findon Valley Residents’ Association, felt particularly concerned. He said: “I am in my 80s now and this is a concern as it now costs me £2,000 a year to pay my energy bills. I’m not an unintelligent person but I think there’s a lot of confusion over tariffs.

Personally, I think the level of energy price increases is indefensible.”

Ray Fowler, of Arun Citizens’ Advice Bureau, felt fuel poverty remained a ‘massive issue’ for many. But he added the CAB had been working with the county council to provide assistance.

Worthing borough councillor Bob Smytherman, believed many residents would be affected significantly by price rises.

He said: “These price rises are really hitting people hard and this issue has really caught the Government on the hop.

“We are going to have to address the issue of making homes as energy efficient as possible – which will happen with the Green Deal, which offers residents home insulation and other energy efficiency measures with a loan against the value of their property.

“But I am concerned as taking out a loan on your property is fine if you’re intending to be there for the next 20 years, but if you’re in a flat and moving in the shorter term, it might affect the sale.”

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton believed the Government is taking action on the issue by insisting energy companies ensure customers are on the most economical tariffs available. However, he conceded that significant electricity price rises were causing residents “a major headache”.

He said : “It is a very complicated thing for people to ensure they get the best deals on their energy, so I think that it is long overdue the Government is bringing in the Green Deal. Nationally, there will also be additional help for the hardest hit 250,000 pensioners.”