Local energy schemes fighting fuel poverty

New collective switching projects could help millions of people move to cheaper home fuel deals this year.

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The Independent Online

The battle to fight fuel poverty got a timely boost this week as 132 local energy projects were handed a share of £46m from the Government.

Yesterday millions of customers of E.ON became the latest to be hit by a winter price hike, with average bills climbing 8.7 per cent.

Almost nine in ten households are expected to ration energy use this winter because of cost, according to research from uSwitch, while last winter three quarters of households went without heating at some point to keep their energy costs down.

Some £31m of the government cash will be used to help reduce fuel poverty by installing efficient central heating systems and insulation in the homes of vulnerable people,

While £10m will be used to improve energy efficiency in homes across the country, £5m will go towards encouraging collective switching projects, schemes where people gather together in the hope of getting a better deal from energy suppliers.

The projects are becoming a crucial tool in helping vulnerable households get a better deal. The most high-profile collective switching project to date was run by Which? magazine last year and resulted in around 30,000 people being offered a cheaper deal by Co-operative Energy. However, the largest collective switching project in the country is Ready to Switch, a scheme led by Peterborough council that involves 12 local authorities and offers an estimated 1.5m households average savings of between £60 and £200.

Collective switching can help people who may not find out easy to switch to a better deal on their own, said Mike Jones, chairman of the Local Government Authority's Environment and Housing Board.

"Everybody has the right to switch their energy supplier but finding the right tariff is often unclear and the process of switching is not made easy," he pointed out. "This is particularly true for elderly or vulnerable members of the community who might be confused by the process or scared that if something goes wrong, they will be left without heating or electricity."

Council-run collective switching projects have really taken off since South Lakeland District Council set one up last June. More than 25 local authorities have now launched projects, with 80 more reported to be planned.

But the latest cash boost has led to a new nationwide scheme led by not-for-profit firm The Peoples Power.

The Cheaper Energy Together partnership– which comprises 30 organisations including charities, local authorities and housing associations – will focus on those facing fuel poverty, and those who have not switched before.

Under the scheme, people will be able to sign up online, on the phone, or at a series of local events over the next two months, before a big community switch is held in March.

"We are really excited at the prospect of having such a strong community partnership for cheaper energy bills," said Mike Shamash, project director.

"We want to make sure that everyone has the chance to make a real saving on their energy bills, so we will be making an extra effort to work with households who haven't switched before, and those who may be facing fuel poverty."

Full details of the project have yet to be published but you can go online to www.cheaperenergytogether.org for the latest information.

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