Ministers in the dock as Britain's elderly face soaring winter fuel bills

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Indy Politics

Charities will tomorrow take the Government to the High Court in an attempt to embarrass it over its record on fuel poverty. Help the Aged and Friends of the Earth will press for a judicial review to lay bare ministers' failure to rescue millions of vulnerable people who face a struggle to heat and power their homes this winter.

The charities will tell the High Court that the Government has broken the law by not doing everything reasonably practicable to meet its fuel poverty targets. The legal move comes shortly after it emerged that the number of households living in fuel poverty – where more than 10 per cent of income is spent on heating and power – has risen by a million in a year.

The court challenge will highlight the Government's alleged failure to provide a comprehensive and costed plan of action for meeting its targets, or to set a minimum standard of energy efficiency to be applied to affected households. They will also point to repeated criticism by the independent Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, and the fact that the Government itself has admitted that targets to reduce and eventually eliminate fuel poverty will be missed.

Mervyn Kohler, special adviser for Help the Aged, said: "It's not surprising that older people have little faith in the Government's mediocre attempts to tackle fuel poverty."

The pressure groups will reinforce their case with new poll findings that show the vast majority of older people believe the Government is not doing enough to help them with rising fuel bills.

The legal challenge comes as it emerges that Consumer Focus, the new "super-watchdog", which last week replaced the National Consumer Council, Energywatch and Postwatch, plans to fight only half as many cases as its predecessor. It will refer a maximum of 20,000 people to an "extra help unit", the only body capable of battling suppliers on behalf of consumers, according to figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday. Energywatch intervened in almost twice as many cases last year. The new body also plans to refer 40 per cent of complainants straight back to the energy companies themselves.

An estimated 90 per cent of Energywatch's former staff – who specialised in helping people fight excessive fuel bills – have been made redundant.

90

Percentage of staff at Energywatch laid off as new regulator takes over.

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