Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Fuel deal aims to cut elderly deaths
Fuel poverty is estimated to cause thousands of winter deaths
A unique scheme to save elderly people money on fuel bills could cut the number of deaths from hypothermia, according to elderly experts.
Under the Age Concern Energy Services package between energy giant PowerGen and the commercial arm of Age Concern, people over 60 in England and Wales could see their average annual fuel bill fall by up to £60 as a result of reductions in standing charges and unit costs for gas and electricity.
The deal will also mean pensionsers can get cold weather payments for every day that the temperature falls below 0 degrees Celsius during December, January and February.
The payments will be made in the form of two extra hours of gas fire heating.
The government currently provides cold weather payments of £8.50 to pensioners on income support when the average forecast or recorded temperature falls below 0 degrees Celsius for seven consecutive days.
On Tuesday, it is due to announce a big increase in winter fuel payments for all pensioners.
PowerGen, which supplies gas and electricity and generates14% of electricity in England and Wales, says the reduced standing charges and unit costs for gas will shave £60 off a £330 a year British Gas bill paid on a quarterly basis.
But others say the saving to some people could be as little as £5 a year.
However, an Age Concern spokesman said the £60 saving was based on a person living in an average-sized, poorly insulated house, relying on gas heating.
"£330 is not an enormous annual bill," he said. "We are just trying to indicate the kind of saving that could be made."
The package also includes a 24-hour helpline, large format bills which are easier to read, help with carbon monoxide detection and free energy efficiency surveys.
Age Concern has been campaigning for many years to highlight the plight of pensioners who die of hypothermia because they cannot afford winter fuel bills.
It says up to 48,000 more people die in winter than summer in the UK, 94% of whom are elderly.
"It is a simple fact that cold kills," said Age Concern director Sally Greengross.
"Age Concern, through our Energy Services partnership with PowerGen, will help older people to heat their homes sufficiently during the coldest months of the year."
The charity, which will receive £5 for every new customer which signs up with PowerGen as a result of the initiative, said it had no plans to work with other energy suppliers on similar deals.
But it hopes the deal will act as a spur to other energy companies.
The government says it is working to tackle the problems of fuel poverty.
Trade and industry minister Helen Liddell said: "The changes we have seen in gas and electricity markets should mean new and innovative pricing policies for customers.
"As a government, we have been anxious to ensure that everyone benefits from competition, especially those who may be disadvantaged."