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UK Politics

Big Six energy firms accused of breaking vow to help poorest families

Government urged not to release companies from efficiency commitments as deadline looms

The Big Six energy companies have been accused of trying to wriggle out of their long-standing commitments to help vulnerable households struggling with their bills.

Under the Community Energy Saving Programme, which was launched in 2009, they are legally obliged to offer energy efficiency measures for free or at a very low cost to households in deprived communities.

But with the deadline rapidly approaching, the Big Six firms are now lobbying the Government for an extension. Without more time they are set to fail to meet the agreed targets. Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy Secretary, warned the Government not to cave in to the companies after ministers were forced to admit their lobbying activities.

In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Energy Minister Gregory Barker said he had met the Big Six on 1 February. A further question forced him to admit that the firms had asked to extend the 31 December 2012 deadline for achieving both the Community Energy Saving Programme (Cesp) and the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (Cert).

Ms Flint said: "Energy companies are failing to keep their side of the deal and help families and pensioners make their homes warmer and more energy efficient. If the energy companies can't sort this out themselves, then Ofgem and the Government must not let them off the hook. They need to step in and ensure that the companies put their profits to proper use and meet their obligations, before this scheme finishes."

When Cesp was launched it was estimated that the scheme would help around 90,000 homes across Britain and deliver a saving of 19.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over a lifetime.

But the latest official figures reveal that the energy firms are short of those targets. Figures released last September show that only 12,703 properties had received insulation measures and only 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions had been realised up to June 2011. It means the scheme achieved just 7.2 per cent of the overall CO2 emissions target, despite being nearly two-thirds of the way through. A spokesperson for Energy UK, which represents the energy firms, said: "Energy companies are working hard to meet their ambitious Cert targets. Identifying customers in the Super Priority Group has been a challenge and suppliers have been working with the Government to target these customers and offer them insulation."

Meanwhile, a report published today warns that despite the mild winter, higher energy bills will push more households into debt. The Consumer Focus research shows four in 10 people say their winter energy bill is even higher than last year.