THE launch of the new LymeOnline newspaper on February 23 coincides with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day which is aimed at highlighting the problems faced by those struggling to keep warm in their homes.
For some time Citizens Advice has been saying that energy bills have been too high and that consumers have been unfairly subsidising unjustified profits which are currently being made by the UK’s gas and electricity companies.
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has now admitted that the energy costs that are being charged to consumers have been higher than had been expected when it set its latest price controls. Dermot Nolan, its chief executive, believes the returns being earned by the major energy suppliers needs to fall in the years ahead and that there should be confidence that their costs are being reflected efficiently and accurately in the bills that customers have to pay.
The local offices of Citizens Advice assist many people who are having problems with their energy bills and they have welcomed a new initiative by Energy UK, an organisation representing companies involved in the production and supply of electricity and gas for domestic and business consumers.
It has appointed a Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances and it will be looking at how energy suppliers, Government departments and Ofgem could better support customers in vulnerable circumstances. Among those it plans to consult are consumer groups representing the elderly and people with disabilities, experts on financial vulnerability and mental health charities.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “This commission offers a real opportunity to ensure that vulnerable energy customers receive a better service and the right level of support.
“We’ve long argued that energy companies should do more to support their customers in vulnerable circumstances. All too often, these are customers who are paying over the odds for their energy and are treated poorly by their supplier.
“We look forward to working constructively with the commission and to the development of concrete proposals that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of vulnerable people.”
Lawrence Slade, who is chief executive of Energy UK, commented: “Identifying customers in vulnerable circumstances and providing the appropriate support customers need, and want, is a challenge that it not unique to energy companies.”
He said that society needs to take “huge leaps” forward in recognising and responding to the impact of vulnerable circumstances which “can be difficult to identify, are often complex and can be temporary or permanent”.
National Energy Action (NEA), which is running a Warm Homes Campaign in conjunction with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, said it is concerned by the impact of low incomes, benefit cuts, the introduction of Universal Credit and above-inflation rises in the cost of essential goods and services, such as energy, are having on the poorest in society.
Citizens Advice holds weekly sessions at the St Michael’s Business Centre in Lyme Regis and, on a trial basis, is arranging to have advisers available at the town’s medical centre in Uplyme Road.
The sessions at St Michael’s Business Centre are held from 10am to 3pm on Wednesdays although it will be closed on March 21 when people will be able to go instead to the medical centre between 10am and 12noon. There will be other sessions at the medical centre on Monday, February 26 and Monday, March 12, also between 10am and 12noon.
Anyone is welcome to visit Citizens Advice, even if they do not have an appointment, and the advice they will be able to obtain is always free, confidential and impartial.