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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
High fuel bills panel
British household gas and electricity bills have almost doubled in the last three years and now total more than 1,000 a year on average. Six people tell us how they are coping.

Joanne Paterson
Joanne Paterson:
Brighton

Anne Gall
Anne Gall:
Port Talbot


Norman Russell
Norman Russell:
Essex

Keith Bright
Glenys & Keith Bright:
Gorleston

Andrea Robinson
Andrea Robinson:
Wolverhampton

Jessica Tomlin
Jessica Tomlinson:
High Wycombe

JOANNE PATERSON, BRIGHTON

Joanne Paterson and children
Joanne Paterson has had pneumonia three times

I am a single mother, I have a ten-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter.

We live in a two bedroom house, it's quite a small house but the cost of keeping it warm is killing me.

I have only just had central heating installed. I used to have storage heaters but they were so expensive, I didn't turn them on.

I got pneumonia last winter and have had it twice since.

When I first became ill, my doctor told me to 'go home and keep warm'.

When he found out what my situation was, he intervened, it's only because he got involved that the council allowed me to get central heating.

I'm afraid to put any heating on

I feel the weather getting colder and it scares me. I haven't put the heating on yet but I will do soon.

I am in debt to British Gas. I owe them nearly 900, I'm trying so hard to pay this off but it makes me afraid to put any heating on.

I still don't understand why my bills are so much. We were away for two weeks not long ago and that month, the bill was still 100, we weren't even here.

I have looked on all the websites for tips on how to save energy. I do my washing between 12pm and 6am.

I know they advise people to have showers but I can't afford to get one installed. The kids have to have a bath before they go to bed. We can't cut down on this. What more can I do?

ANNE GALL, PORT TALBOT, WALES

Anne Gall
Anne Gall is worried her savings will all be spent on electricity bills

I made the decision to save up and have central heating installed one year ago.

When I signed up, I was told my bills would be fixed but the price has just increased by 20 per month without warning.

I am a pensioner, I have to budget and I just can't afford this.

Life has always been a struggle, it's never been easy but I'm no different from anyone else round here.

I'm not a victim, I don't need my house to be warm 24 hours a day. I lead a very active life. I don't know how people who have to stay at home all day survive.

My nest-egg will be gone in a matter of months

I have my heating on a timer, it only comes on in the mornings and in the evenings. I wear big fleecy jumpers and all my curtains are fully lined.

I make sure all the doors are closed and the drafts are sealed - that way none of the heat can escape.

I don't go out in the evenings in winter, that is very hard for me as I'm used to being so active in the summer months.

I have always saved every penny I could, especially since my husband died, 11 years ago.

For the first time in my life, I was just beginning to gather a little nest-egg for myself but if my electricity bills continue increasing, this will be gone in a matter of months.

NORMAN RUSSELL, PILGRIMS HATCH, ESSEX

Norman Russell with his grandson
Norman Russell is demanding answers

I retired three years ago, I'm 68 years old. I'm not a rich man but I'm not poor either.

I worked hard, paid my taxes and saved a bit for a rainy day. Those savings are being whisked away at a rate of knots.

I was with British Gas for 41 years, I changed to a different provider in 2004, I was supposed to be on a fixed price plan but I actually experienced seven increases over that two year period.

Times are changing, these companies used to demand payment and OAPs like myself would pay up, but we're different now.

I have to stand up for myself

My generation are not afraid of these people anymore. We ask questions, we want explanations.

For the first time in my life, I'm on a fixed income. My pension went up by 2.7% this year but so too did the council tax, the electricity, gas etc. When I worked out my finances, I'm actually 2.26 poorer a week.

I'm not so worried about winter. I have invested in a wood burner. There are things everywhere that can be used as fuel in a wood burner.

I find things when I'm out in the street and in the park. This brings my central heating bill down to a minimum. I recommend this to others.

We have to be pro-active, I always stand up for myself. I'm doing it for the next generation, for my grandson's
generation.

GLENYS & KEITH BRIGHT, GORLESTON

Keith Bright
Keith Bright cannot work for health reasons

My husband Keith [pictured] has had MS since the late 1980s. I too have health complications, this means neither of us are able to work.

Because of this, we have to survive on less money than ever before. I want to work, I even got a job with the council but I failed the medical.

We both do volunteer work with the MS society. This keeps us busy, active and involved but doesn't bring any money in.

Because neither of us are 60 yet, we don't qualify for government support.

It doesn't make any sense to me. If we were aged 60 but fully fit and working, we would be entitled to 200 per month for our electricity.

We are physically disabled, we spend more time in our home than most 60 year olds I know, but still, we don't qualify for any kind of support.

The government benefit should have been targeted better

We have two furry throws on the settee and we spend a lot of time curled up in those.

In the winter, I close the curtains early and open them much later - anything to conserve the heat.

I'm not angry with the government, that's a wasted emotion, I just feel disappointed. I feel this 200 benefit should have been targeted better. It's not properly thought through and doesn't always go to the right people.

We know people who suffer with MS and live alone. The only people they see on a daily basis are carers.

Keith and I are lucky, we have each other, we're like two halves of a coin. I worry about people who live alone and have no-one to look after them and no way of keeping their homes warm.

ANDREA ROBINSON, WOLVERHAMPTON

Andrea Robinson
Andrea Robinson wanted to be energy efficient

When we first moved into our home here in Wolverhampton, it had a pre-pay meter. I wasn't keen on this as a way to pay our bills but wanted to replace it with a green alternative.

Finally I found a scheme that seemed like the right option. I was told that the charges would be exactly the same but in reality, prices have fluctuated wildly.

I had hoped that the summer months would have allowed us to build up a bit of a buffer. Quite the opposite has happened.

My partner and I now do our own meter readings on a daily basis.

We are using less but paying more

We have also started randomly turning things off in an attempt to see if there is one appliance that is costing us so much.

I have been pro-active in my preparations for the winter months. The roof has been insulated, all drafts covered over and the windows are all double glazed.

Our electricity usage has changed enormously over the past few years. For financial as well as environmental reasons we are using far less than ever before.

It makes me very angry that we are using less but paying more.

JESSICA TOMLINSON, HIGH WYCOMBE

Jessica Tomlin
First time buyer Jessica Tomlinson is struggling to cope with bills

I'm a single person living in my first mortgaged flat with my son.

I am shocked by the price of electricity.

I pay a certain amount to my supplier every month by direct debit but I have noticed this is not covering my usage.

I have suddenly found myself in debt. It's very worrying and I don't know what to do.

I am careful about conserving energy. I don't leave things on, I turn things off at the sockets and I never leave lights on unnecessarily.

If the worst comes to the worst, I will have to sell my flat

Winter is coming so I will be using much more electricity, my summer bills were double what I had expected, how will I cope with the winter bills?

To be honest, I push it to one side. They haven't asked me for the money so I'm not dealing with it at the moment.

I know it's there, and it's growing, but I'm trying not to let it get to me. Everyone struggles.

I don't think I will be able to manage living alone for much more than a year.

It's hard enough for first time buyers, the cost of living is already so high - I hadn't even thought about electricity.

If things continue, I will have no other option but to move to another area or to get a tenant in.

I'm determined not to get into debt, I'll never get a credit card to pay this off so if the worst comes to the worst, I will have to sell my flat. I really hope it doesn't come to that.





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