If you're in fuel poverty, British Gas might come to the rescue. Trust me, it's true

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The Independent Online

Things went for bad to worse for Leonard Saunders when his boiler broke down while he was already having to deal with heating problems in his Wirral home and trying to protect it against damp. Many of you may have had similar experiences and know that such a breakdown can be the start of a world of confusion and expense.

Leonard was particularly worried as he had just started to claim his pension and was consequently on a very tight budget. He was left with too little money to buy a decent replacement boiler.

But help came from a surprising source: a friend told him about a charity linked to the UK's biggest energy giant, saying it might be able to help. In fact, according to figures published this week, the British Gas Energy Trust has spent more than £78m since it was set up in 2004 helping those in need with their energy bills.

It's an independent charity, set up and funded by British Gas to help struggling households with their gas and electricity bills. It puts people in touch with expert debt advisers, and in some cases clears households' energy debts completely. And surprisingly, you don't have to be a British Gas customer to be eligible for help.

Leonard got in touch with the charity through one of its advisers, Michael Egan who is based at the St Helens Citizens Advice Bureau.

"Michael listened to my concerns, and said help could soon be at hand through the trust," Leonard said.

"I just had to fill out some simple forms to see if I was eligible to receive help.Within weeks I was awarded a grant to cover the entire cost of my boiler, which really helped to get rid of all the stress I'd felt about my situation."

I often have to write fairly negative stories about the big energy companies, so it's pleasing to be able to report a good news story for a change. However, I'm not telling you Leonard's story just to fill your heart with joy – but to alert you to the charity and the help it can offer.

Research by the consultancy Oxford Economics found the trust has helped around 150,000 people in need across Britain. Those who receive its grants typically live in the most deprived areas of the country, where 60 per cent of people, on average, depend on benefits for their income.

Even if you never need to turn to it, you may know someone for whom the trust's help that could make a real difference. Go online to britishgasenergytrust.org.uk or call 01733 421 060 for more information about the trust and to find out whether you are eligible for help.

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