Offices of energy companies, local government and housing providers were targeted by protesters over the weekend in a series of co-ordinated nationwide activities to fight rising fuel prices and the increasing number of people forced into fuel poverty.
Protesters from the Fuel Poverty Action Group organised "Winter Warm Ups" outside offices of the big six firms – EDF, British Gas, Eon, Npower, Scottish Power and Southern & Scottish Energy – and at town halls where local councils were accused of not providing decent quality housing and insulation.
British Gas owner Centrica is next month expected to announce profits of £566m for last year. But profits will be down compared with 2010's record figures of £742m after the company revealed it has been losing 1,800 customers a day in the wake of a series of gas and electricity price hikes last year.
Anger has been growing as well-publicised falls in the price of wholesale energy have not being passed on to customers. Since peaking last summer, wholesale gas prices have fallen by 31 per cent, while electricity has fallen by 28 per cent.
But last autumn British Gas raised gas prices by 18 per cent and electricity 16 per cent. EDF increased charges by 15.4 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively and SSE by 18 per cent and 11 per cent. This month they all announced price cuts, but the level of the decreases – at an average 5 per cent – provoked further anger.
The background to the weekend's protests is the fact that the rising cost of domestic gas and electricity has forced millions of people into fuel poverty, defined as when their energy bills cost a 10th or more of their income. An estimated 24 per cent of UK homes – which works out at around 6.3 million households – are believed to be in fuel poverty. At worse, it forces vulnerable people to choose between heating and eating.
Events organised by the Fuel Poverty Action Group at the weekend took place in Lewisham, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge, Haringey, Hackney, the City of London and elsewhere as anger at energy firms' high prices took to the streets. The campaigners say their demands are simple: they ask for a fair energy system which provides warm housing for all and a safe climate for our future.
Elizabeth Ziga from Fuel Poverty Action said: "We want to challenge the big six energy companies which control 99 per cent of the energy industry and make record profits off our rising bills.
"Thousands die each year in the UK because they cannot afford to heat their homes, and hundreds of thousands die globally due to climate change. The Government is in bed with these companies, is doing nothing to deal with the poor quality of housing many of us experience, and to make matters worse has just cut the winter fuel allowance."
Protesters say their campaign is just beginning, with further action planned for London today. "We want warmth to meet our needs, not corporate greed. Community action can achieve this," said Ms Ziga.
Jessica Ahmad, a protester who lives in Lewisham, said: "We want our communities to control our housing and energy so that we can provide warm, insulated homes for all."