Government move on energy costs 'not enough'

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The Government's measures to help people struggling with soaring energy bills received a muted welcome from consumer groups with most saying they did not go far enough.

Charities and support groups praised the long-term measures to make people's homes more energy efficient, but warned there was not enough in the package to help people struggling with high fuel bills this winter.

Mervyn Kohler, special adviser at Help the Aged, said: "This is a flimsy and failing package which does little to help older people struggling to cope with soaring fuel bills. The statement simply lacks energy.

"If the Government wants to meet its legal obligations to eradicate fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions, ministers are going to have to deliver a lot more than this.

"Enhancing home insulation is a step in the right direction, but older people need help right now as the winter months approach.

"Individual changes which have been flagged by the Prime Minister are sensible and move in the right direction, but they are too little, too modest and will take too long to address the urgent plight of many pensioners today."

He called on the Government to provide "significant funding" to meet the crisis facing many older people this winter, adding that energy providers should do more to guarantee that vulnerable customers are paying for their fuel through the lowest cost options and tariffs.

Gas and electricity watchdog energywatch criticised the Government's response to the growing fuel poverty crisis as being "too little too late".

Allan Asher, energywatch chief executive, said: "The lack of political will to tackle fuel poverty is not just disappointing, it approaches negligence.

"While Government has now woken up to the scale of the challenge and is becoming alert to the need for some action, the sense of urgency is lacking. The elements that are sensible and welcome are sadly overshadowed by what is lacking."

He added that while improved energy efficiency was a long term solution to fuel poverty, increases to the amount of funding for efficiency programmes must come with the "cast iron assurance" that the rise will not be added to consumers' bills.

He said: "Currently, the CERT scheme is entirely funded by consumers, not Government nor industry. Every penny raised through CERT is a penny on consumers' bills.

"As it stands the scheme has inequality hard-wired into it. A single pensioner on pension credit receiving £124.05 per week will contribute the same amount as an energy company chief executive on a £1,000,000 salary."

But he added that the restoration and increase to the Warm Front budget was welcome, and reversed an "inexplicable" decision to cut the Government's own flagship fuel poverty scheme.

The National Housing Federation said it would give the Government's package a score of just five out of 10.

It said: "The energy efficiency programme is a good step forward, but the Government has failed to take tough action to force the energy fat cats to do the right thing."

It added: "We are pleased that Gordon Brown has at last publicly recognised the plight of prepayment meter users, who have to pay up to £550 more for their energy than some online customers, even though they tend to come from lower income backgrounds.

"However, ultimately the Prime Minister is still relying on the big energy companies to do the right thing voluntarily and drop these rip-off prepayment meter tariffs - even though they have failed to act on Government warnings time and again."

Charity Save the Children was also critical of the measures.

Claire Walker, Save the Children's UK poverty spokeswoman, said: "Children living in poverty are going to be cold this winter and their families are having to make tough choices between having the heating on and having a hot meal.

"This package only scratches the surface of what is needed to help children in fuel poverty.

"We know winter is an expensive time and the poorest families need lump sums of money to help them through this year. The Government should introduce seasonal grants of £100 per child and an extra £100 per household for the poorest families to help with the escalating costs of fuel."