Leeds energy bills crisis

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energy price rises could leave one in every three Leeds homes – or 112,000 households – struggling to pay their bills.

A further 51,000 people living in Leeds could be forced into fuel poverty.

The figures from Leeds City Council come after supply firm Scottish Power announced that it would charge customers 19 per cent more for gas and 10 per cent more for electricity from August – its second rise in less than 12 months.

This will increase individual customers’ bills by around £200 a year.

Expert analysts expect all other energy firms to announce similar price hikes soon.

If all Leeds households were charged 19 per cent more for their energy bills, that would push 22,000 more homes (or 51,000 people) into fuel poverty where 10 per cent or more of their income is spent on gas and/or electricity.

Currently 90,180 of the city’s 334,000 families are living in fuel poverty.

The average Leeds household since the 2001 Census, is made up of 2.34 people.

Deputy council leader Peter Gruen, executive member for housing and neighbourhoods, said that it was time that the Government stopped “washing their hands” of the situation and made a stand against the energy firms.

Pensioners, people on fixed incomes and the unemployed are going to be worst hit, he added.

Coun Gruen said: “If you look at all the cumulative increases at this time - Leeds’s tenants are paying 6.8 per cent more on rent, VAT is now at 20 per cent, fuel prices are steadily going up, people such as pensioners are on fixed incomes, while the employed are on below inflation wages - people won’t have a chance.

“They have to put their heating on, they have got to cook, they need some light and some warmth.

“This is a frightening take on the situation in terms of people who won’t be able to put on their radiators or keep warm.”

Citizens Advice Bureau’s money advice team in Leeds has found that rising energy bills are particularly hitting the young and unemployed.

Marilyn Banister said: “It is pretty near impossible for anyone on basic job seekers allowance or income support to catch up.

“One client I have just seen gets £67.50 per week, and spends £7 on electric, £10 on gas, £7 on water [rates], £5.60 on TV licence. He no longer has a phone, spends £8 a week on bus fares to look for work and the rest, £29.90, is for food, clothes and anything else.

“He said he would find the rise in fuel prices extremely difficult. He has a prepayment meter for electricity, and is going to ask for one for gas so he is only paying for what he uses, but expects he will not have enough money to feed the meter in the winter.”

CAB manager Mike Throssell added: “Energy bills are an issue especially for young people on reduced levels of benefits.

“For those of us who are lucky enough to have an income, we will swallow hard and probably carry on.

“But the reality is that there’s an awful lot of people who aren’t going to be able to swallow hard and carry on. It comes down to one thing - ‘heat or eat’.

“The only other alternative is to not pay the rent, and this will have an impact of landlords.

“The point is that increased energy prices are going to have a knock on effect on everything else. It’s terrible news for consumers and businesses alike.”

Lewis Brown, centre manage at charity Age UK Leeds, said: “This is the second increase in a small space of time from companies showing massive profits. It’s simply immoral.

“If other companies follow suit, which is what they are saying, we are going to see a lot more elderly people coming in unable to pay their bills with energy debts.”

Scottish Power blames an increase in wholesale energy costs and unrest in oil-producing regions for pushing up its prices.

See Monday’s Consumerwatch pages for tips on what to do to survive energy bill hikes.

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