'Act now to slash winter energy bills'

RURAL residents are being urged to reduce their fuel bills by saving energy as part of a new national awareness campaign.

People can save up to £650 a year by cutting their annual energy bills, according to the Rural Community Action Network (RCAN).

RCAN representatives have teamed up with Citizens Advice and Age UK to encourage people to insulate their homes, shop around, check they are getting the best deal on energy.

It comes as a number of big energy companies unveiled price hikes that will see customers forced to pay more to keep warm this winter.

The help is being offered as part of Big Energy Saving Week (22-27 October) and is being co-ordinated by Citizens Advice and the Energy Saving Trust.

One of six other delivery partners involved in the campaign because of its rural specific expertise is the charity Action with Communities in Rural England.

Rural householders should think carefully about their energy use, said Nick Chase, director of policy and research at ACRE, a member of RCAN.

"Rural communities can face mounting pressure on their household budgets during winter, exacerbated by living in homes that are not sufficiently insulated or are off the main gas grid."

Proportionally, more rural households are in fuel poverty than the national average.

In 2009, for example, around 23% of rural households were fuel poor compared to 17% of urban households and 19% of households overall.

RCAN members will be providing support and advice up and down the country to rural households during Big Energy Saving Week, said Mr Chase.

"They will be exploring the range of options available to save money on their fuel bills."

Three main factors in rural communities contribute to fuel poverty – defined as households that spend more than 10% of their income on keeping warm.

· The number of 'hard to treat' homes which have solid walls or do not have loft space so can't use conventional insulation measures

· The number of homes which are off the mains gas grid so use more expensive heating measures such as heating oil, LPG, coal, night storage heaters and electric fires

· The lower average wages of householders compared to their urban counterparts.

A national Buy Fuel Early campaign encourages heating oil consumers to stock up early in autumn before the cold weather increases demand and disrupts deliveries.

Rural households can also make savings on their heating oil bills by joining an oil buying group.

Buying groups purchase oil in bulk on behalf of members which enables them to negotiate the best price per litre, said Mr Chase.

"The Rural Community Action Network has been at the forefront of county-wide buying schemes bringing considerable savings to rural communities.

"The schemes cover approximately two thirds of England bringing communities together and making the most of community joint buying power to help households make savings."

An oil bulk buying scheme run by Community Lincs, for example, is already helping Lincolnshire people cut the cost of their domestic heating bills.

Having just negotiated the seventh month's oil purchase, members have saved an average of just over 4.2p per litre.

This gives an average saving of £21.00 on 500 litres and £42.00 on a 1000 litres. Members pay the same low price whether buying 1000 litres or just ordering the minimum 500 litres.


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