Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Grandmother in fuel poverty fears

Pensioner, Gwen Crystal, and disabled man, John Stuart, explain how they cope with fuel poverty

An Edinburgh grandmother has told how she is so worried about fuel poverty she only boils a kettle once a day.

Gwen Crystal, 63, from Pilton, is one of a group of residents from north Edinburgh campaigning for more help for vulnerable groups.

Ms Crystal told the BBC Scotland news website she also lights candles every evening to avoid putting lights on.

Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10% of income on gas, electricity and heating oil.

Ms Crystal said she fills two thermos flasks every morning because it saves her having to boil the kettle again throughout the day and that lighting candles helped her feel better.

She said: "It does give me a warm effect so I don't think I feel as cold.

"I sometimes put the hallway heater on if it's really cold and maybe for an hour in the sitting room then it goes off.

"I'm just frightened, I'm really, really frightened. You just think money, money, money. Money that I've not got."

It can be that cold in here me and my son are sat on the settee and he'll have two or three duvets wrapped round him
John Stuart
Fuel poverty campaigner

The campaign group she is part of aims to lobby government and utility companies to do more to help.

They said that despite a recent cut in energy prices by some companies people were still being penalised with higher tariffs, especially those who pay by pre-paid meter.

Another campaigner, John Stuart, 53, from Edinburgh's Drylaw, who uses a wheelchair because he has Cerebral Palsy and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis is unable to move away from a pre-paid meter because of debt issues.

The single father said sometimes his house was colder inside, than outside.

He said: "It is especially cold when it's frosty and you've got gaps in the doors that let the cold air through where the doors have warped.

"It can be that cold in here me and my son are sat on the settee and he'll have two or three duvets wrapped round him."

Eddie Fallon, policy advisor from the fuel advisory group Cambium, said there were still unacceptable differentials between methods of payments.

He said: "If you pay by direct debit you can heat your house for four days for example for a certain amount of money.

"Somebody on a pre-paid meter would only be able to heat their house for three days for the same amount."

Methods of payment

Utility companies insisted they were committed to helping vulnerable groups.

Scottish Gas, who maintain Mr Stuart's gas meter, said in the past year they twice narrowed the gap in costs between pre-payment meters and other methods of payments.

There are 850,000 households in Scotland in fuel poverty. The government has set a target to end it by 2016.

A spokesman from the Energy Retail Association, who represent all the major utility companies, said: "Fuel poverty is caused by a combination of factors: low income, poor quality housing stock and energy prices.

"Energy companies are engaged in a multi-billion pound programme to improve the energy efficiency of housing stock, and also provide help and assistance for fuel poor customers in the form of social tariffs, winter rebates, benefits entitlement checks and access to trust funds."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it had invested an extra 10m in the central heating programme this year.

"Looking ahead, a new energy assistance package, backed by 55.8m a year, will be introduced in April, which will tackle fuel poverty by improving energy efficiency in homes and offering better financial advice to vulnerable households.

"This government, as well as doing everything we can, will keep pressing UK ministers and the energy companies to deliver better deal for Scottish consumers."

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