Monday, 24 October 2011

Just Shop Around!

Energy prices are up by 20% this year, and nearly 50% over the last four years.

The average duel fuel bill is now £1345 per household and standard tariffs have risen £175 in the last 6 months. Pensioners and many families are feeling the squeeze – in the latest round of price rises, electricity prices rose by 10%, gas by 17.4%.  Yet, energy companies have seen their profits soar in the last six months – with their margin increasing from £15 per customer per head in June to £125 now.

The National Grid is predicting a winter as cold as 2010, which saw the coldest December on record, so people might expect that the Government would be taking urgent action, especially to stand up to powerful vested interests in the energy industry.

But, instead of showing leadership, the Conservative Prime Minister just lectures people about the need to shop around and the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary says that it’s consumers who are to blame for not bothering to spend enough time hunting for the best deal. Yet, research by consumer group Which? shows that even when people try to shop around for a better deal, energy companies don’t give them accurate information in a third of cases.

Before the last election, when challenged that a Conservative government would cut the winter fuel allowances, David Cameron said “These are quite simply lies.” Yet, now, the government is cutting winter fuel payments by £50 for the over 60s and £100 for the over 80s. Most of those aged 60-79 will get £200 instead of last year's £250. Those who are 80 or older will get £300 instead of £400.

Of course, one of the best ways of cutting fuel bills is to increase insulation to cut consumption. Labour’s Warm Front grants of up to £2,700 helped, on average, 216,340 households every year over the last decade.

You might think that any sensible government would want to continue that initiative. It cuts consumption, cuts bills, keeps households warmer, cuts imports, and provides jobs in installation. But, the government has cut the budget for this year and next by 70% compared to 2009/10, so only 45,000 will be helped next year.