Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 09:58 UK

Fuel poverty plan at a glance

A gas ring
The plan came from a fuel summit organised by the regulator

Energy regulator Ofgem has announced a plan to tackle fuel poverty.

The government says 2.5 million households are in fuel poverty - defined as when more than 10% of household income is spent on fuel bills.

Concern for those on low incomes is growing since energy suppliers announced steep rises in the price of gas and electricity.

The big energy companies have already pledged an extra 225m over three years to social funds and now Ofgem has announced a series of measures aimed at helping those most in need.

DATA SHARING

This would see customers' personal data shared between the government and energy suppliers.

The idea could lead to providers being told who is on certain benefits in order to target their social assistance programmes at the correct people.

The move, which would require new legislation, could prove controversial, given people's concern over the security of their personal information, as well as recent losses of data by government departments.

In the meantime, Ofgem is calling for the major suppliers and the government to ensure plenty of information is sent to customers about what help is available this winter.

CHEAP TARIFF TEST

A pilot scheme will test whether 3,000 households applying for Warm Front grants are on the cheapest tariff.

We cannot use a sticking plaster to hold back a catastrophe
Kate Jopling, Help The Aged

Once they have applied, they will be referred to their energy supplier for tariff advice so that they can make maximum savings.

The scheme will be funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

But Help The Aged say that every 1% rise in fuel prices is putting 40,000 more people in fuel poverty and so the proposals do not go far enough.

"We cannot use a sticking plaster to hold back a catastrophe. We cannot use these small-scale measures when we're facing a growing tide of fuel poverty," said Kate Jopling of Help The Aged.

MORE ADVICE

Some 150,000 is being spent on extending a scheme known as Energy Best Deal.

Ofgem has been running a pilot project in the South West, mid-Wales and North Yorkshire that trains people already working with low-income groups to give them advice on energy efficiency.

The pilot project saw Citizens Advice staff given information on how to switch suppliers and how to make a home more efficient.

The extended programme, funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, would see this rolled out nationally and could see Surestart and credit union staff trained to give advice too.

Suppliers could set up new advice lines. Websites with information on how to switch suppliers are being urged to advertise their telephone numbers for those who do not have internet access.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Some 3m is being spent as part of a pilot project to introduce fuel-saving microgeneration to fuel poor communities.

This could see more use of pumps to use heat from underground.

But campaigners say more effort should be made to cut costs for those paying for gas and electricity on pre-payment meters.

They typically pay around 140 more on an annual bill than those who pay by direct debit. Regulator Ofgem says it is looking into these costs as part of an inquiry into competition in the domestic energy market.


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