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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 13 February 2006

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BRITISH GAS TURNS UP THE HEAT

SENIOR sources at British Gas have this week revealed that the company is set to announce the biggest gas and electricity price increases in British history. The massive 25% increase, which is 10 times the annual rate of inflation, will find 11 million British Gas customers paying a staggering £209 extra per year, taking the average household energy bill up to £1030. Despite already being on average 12.5% more expensive for gas than its competitors, this figure is set to rise.

British Gas is blaming the rises on increases in the cost of wholesale gas, in spite of the fact that it buys the bulk of its gas on long-term contracts. This means that the company should have been insulated from the recent dramatic short-term movements in the wholesale gas market.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at leading switching and comparison service uSwitch.com comments:- “We have been expecting an increase from British Gas, but frankly these figures are shocking. There is insufficient justification for such excessive price rises. We will be looking to Ofgem to step in and investigate the reasons for these increases, and verify that they are legitimate.  This is a dramatic response to the recent volatility within the wholesale gas market, which is likely to subside in the near future. The fact is that British Gas will have increased its prices by 43% in the space of just five months, and is banking on customer apathy to keep its balance sheet looking healthy.
Customers now need to vote with their feet and let British Gas know that this is one price rise too many. If enough people switch away this time it might make the company think twice before introducing increases of this magnitude in the future.”


The highest winter death toll in 5 years was reported in 20059, and there is a real fear that more people will die as they struggle to keep warm this winter. The poorest 6 million people in the UK are already on the verge of fuel poverty, spending 9% of their income on energy bills. Worryingly, this 25% price increase will add 422,000 households to the 3 million already living in fuel poverty in the UK. This makes meeting Government targets to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 highly improbable.

Ann Robinson continues:- “Too little too late is being done for these people. There are around 1.9 million vulnerable customers in the UK, 800,000 pensioners are already living below the poverty line, and we estimate that almost half a million households will be pushed into fuel poverty as a result of these rises. Those people who are paying over 10% of their income towards energy bills are now in serious danger, and need a record increase like a hole in the head.  This issue is compounded by the large numbers of people who are either not entitled to, or not claiming the benefits available. 50% of people that are in fuel poverty do not qualify for the Winter Fuel Allowance, and only 1 in 3 pensioners claim the free benefits that they are entitled to. The percentage of a pensioner’s typical bill covered by the Winter Fuel Allowance will have fallen from 53% in 2003 to 31% once these price rises come into effect. Energy suppliers, along with the Government, have a duty to provide better information and greater financial support to those that need it most.”

For more information visit uSwitch.com or call 0800 093 06 07

Karen Darby, CEO from SimplySwitch.com comments:- “British Gas is set to inflict its biggest ever price rise on its 11 million customers. As prices are already at an all time high, a further increase will hit many households hard and push an average annual household energy bill well above the £1,000 mark.  As wholesale prices remain volatile, we have been expecting energy companies to announce further price increases and if British Gas puts its prices up, others will follow.  These price rises will have a significant impact on consumers’ bills, but the providers are relying on customer apathy - consumers have the option to switch to a better deal.  Last month, British Gas dropped its 2010 price protection tariff for new customers at a time when demand for capped and fixed products is at its peak. There are other capped and fixed options available and I would urge all consumers to sign up to one before they are withdrawn.  Since the start of 2004, gas prices have gone up by an average of 32% while electricity prices have gone up by an average of 24%. British Gas last increased its prices in September 2005 when they went up by 14.2% for both gas and electricity, adding £48.00 to an average annual bill."

Capped and fixed price tariffs

EDF Energy

* Prices are frozen until January 2008 - Prices will not alter up or down

* Available for any customers of London Energy, Seeboard Energy and SWEB Energy

* This offer is available to standard and economy 7 electricity and dual fuel customers and is open until the end of the year

* No exit penalties if you switch away

* Unit rate is +approximately 5% for dual fuel when compared with the standard tariff

Powergen

* Capped until October 2007 - Prices can decrease if wholesale prices fall

* No end date for sign up. Available across the UK.

* Dual fuel only

* No exit penalties if you switch away

* Payment methods available: Monthly direct debit or quarterly cash cheque

* Capped rate will be reviewed if wholesale prices drop

* Unit rate is +12% for dual fuel when compared with the standard tariff

Scottish Power

* Frozen until October 2007 - Prices will neither alter up or down

* Available to dual fuel customers or electricity only - Not available on single gas

* Cash/ Cheque or monthly Direct Debit payment options available.

* No exit penalty

* An extra £2.50 per month is paid on gas & an extra £1.50 on electricity compared to their standard rate.

npower

* Gas prices capped until January 2007

* A limited offer, though no end date for sign up as yet

* Available across the UK

* Available for dual fuel and single gas

* No exit penalties if you switch away

* Payment methods available:- Monthly direct debit or quarterly cash cheque

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UK HEADING FOR WORST YEAR EVER FOR INSOLVENCIES

THE UK is heading for its worst year ever for bankruptcies and personal insolvencies as the country’s debt crisis takes its toll, debt solutions company One Advice warns.  Its research shows that around 203,000 people are considering bankruptcy and that 252,000 people owe more than £50,000 on credit cards, loans, overdrafts and other unsecured debts.

Government statistics show individual insolvencies soared by 45% last year hitting a new high of 67,580. The Insolvency Service figures showed 47,287 people declared themselves bankrupt while another 20,293 entered into Individual Voluntary Arrangements. Bankruptcies are up 31% on 2004 while IVAs have increased by 88%.

One Advice believes this year will see a further rise due to a combination of the UK’s debt crisis and changes in the law which have made it easier for individuals to go bankrupt.

Chris Holmes, chief executive of One Advice, said:- “Insolvency used to be something that only companies did. Now it is increasingly becoming commonplace for individuals.  We expect to see yet another record-breaking year for the courts with bankruptcies continuing to climb.  Many people with serious debts might consider bankruptcy as the solution to all their problems. It can be effective for some but it is not suitable for all people. It has far reaching consequences and should only be entered into after seriously considering other options. An Individual Voluntary Arrangement, which allows people to reach a formal agreement with their creditors to settle their debts, can be appropriate in many circumstances.  We would urge anyone with debt problems to seek advice on a range of solutions and not just focus on bankruptcy.”

One Advice offers the following advice to people who are finding it difficult to make repayments on their debts.

· If you have a debt problem make sure you deal with it as quickly as possible. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get

· If you have a number of creditors and are finding it difficult to make your repayments, take professional advice from a debt advisory service who can advise you on the best solution for your financial difficulties

· If you seek advice from a debt advisory service, make sure that they can offer a full range of solutions and not just one as this may impact their ability to offer independent advice

· Look for ways in which you can reduce your expenditure

For further information about One Advice or for advice on managing debts call 0800 012 2300 or visit www.oneadvice.co.uk.

Southport Hospital 10% cleaner than last year

AN independent audit carried out on Wednesday 8 February 2006 by facilities managers from a neighbouring Trust, Southport & Formby District General Hospital declared 93% clean. This is an increase of 10% on this time last year.

Geoff Wilding, Facilities Manager at Southport told us that:- "This is a great result for us as we were disappointed last year. To have improved this much is a credit to the cleaners in the hospital who have to work in a very busy environment. We hope we can improve still further on this next year."

The team of inspectors carried out a comprehensive review from beds to toilets and everything in between, and declared them as either clean or dirty. We scored an average of 93%, with one of the areas assessed scoring 100%.

Most people hope now the Hospital will get 100% in the next audit.

We can reveil that the six areas visited by the audit at Southport Hospital were:-

Area 1. Outpatients Department.
Area 2. Intensive Care Unit.
Area 3. Accident & Emergency Department (A&E).
Areas 4 to 6. Three ward areas.

Sefton banks its share of more than £21,000

MORE than 20 charities throughout the region have between them received £21,000 in the past 12 months - thanks to grants from the Alliance & Leicester Fund, managed by the Community Foundation for Merseyside.

Hundreds of people in Merseyside, Manchester and Wigan have benefited from the fund, which supports education, environmental and health initiatives.

The programme was established three years ago and has so far awarded 131 grants, ranging from £50 to £5,000, to a variety of grateful organisations and innovative projects in eight boroughs, including Sefton, across the North West.

Community Foundation for Merseyside Grants officer Joan Ford said:- “Interest in the Alliance & Leicester Fund is always high. People have benefited in many different ways from the fund with a host of different projects supported and funded.

The importance of what may appear to be a relatively small amount of funding cannot be underestimated. The fund has had a real impact on the local community.“


During the year, Henshaws Society for the Blind received more than £1,000 to fund an electric hoist for its Southport centre. The new equipment proved essential for the centre’s elderly, visually impaired residents, who can now get around much more easily.

Waterloo Mini Rugby Club in Blundellsands has also benefited from funding. The club used its £250 grant to buy new gloves and shirts for its young players. The project has given local children the chance to enjoy the outdoors and become involved with team sport.

“We’re delighted that we are able to help so many organisations and innovative projects and put something back into the communities in which we operate,” explained Bill Sutton, Director of Operations at Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank.

For further information about the Alliance & Leicester Fund or any other fund administered by the Community Foundation for Merseyside. Tel:- 0151 966 4604.

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