Elderly people are still freezing while the owner of British Gas rakes in huge profits - Jayne Dowle

A few days before British Gas announced that profits had more than tripled in 2022 to £3.3bn from £948m in 2021, I had a shock energy figure of my own to consider.

After some tussling in the autumn, my own home energy supplier, EDF, has been in touch about my ‘February review’ and informed me that from March, they’re expecting me to hand over £708 monthly by direct debit.

I’m working up the ire and the er, energy, to ring them. I will. This three-figure demand is not only ridiculous, it is clearly wrong.

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Looking at my actual usage, I worked out that between the start of December and the middle of this month, including the Christmas and New Year holidays, when everyone was at home 24/7, my monthly outlay on gas and electricity was just under £300.

Many people are freezing in their homes as the owner of British Gas reported record profits. PIC: PAMany people are freezing in their homes as the owner of British Gas reported record profits. PIC: PA
Many people are freezing in their homes as the owner of British Gas reported record profits. PIC: PA

Not cheap, by any means. But to be honest, not quite as bad as I was expecting, given the time of year, the freezing cold weather in December and the fact that I work from home, so I’m obliged to put the light on at 4pm in wintertime so I can actually see.

Never the heating though; I sit at my laptop swathed in four layers and two blankets most days, have done for years, and haven’t contracted hypothermia yet.

But then again I’m (relatively) young and healthy. In January, the campaign group National Energy Action undertook research for ITV News and proved that out of the 13,400 excess deaths between December 2021 and March 2022, 4,020 were caused by the impact of cold housing. That's the equivalent of one in three people who lost their life, literally dying of cold.

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When I speak to EDF I will arrange to pay anything outstanding, and inform them that from then on, I’m not paying more than £300 a month because there is no justification – at the moment, until the threatened April energy price rises at least – for giving them any more of my hard-earned cash.

I’ll also remind them that I’m still waiting – after the first one broke and three dud models were sent out - to receive the new smart meter they promised me back in September.

I’m hoping to get a ‘customer service advisor’ who speaks sense. It worries me that I’ve never received the same answers to my queries about consumption and costs twice. I swear half the time they make up the figures. And don’t even get me started on Live Chat; it’s like arguing with jelly.

That’s why I want my smart meter, so at least I can assert some kind of control over costs which threaten to spiral ever higher.

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It will also be useful to show my son and daughter, aged 20 and 17, exactly what happens when they leave a computer on all night, or craftily switch on the central heating when I’m out and about (I know it happens, I always check the radiators on my return).

Like everyone else in the country, I’ve really tried to do my bit to keep energy consumption under control this winter, not just for the sake of my own bank balance, but to help conserve stocks of power. I wasn’t remotely gaslighted (sorry again) by the government’s scare-mongering campaign threatening us with rationing and a return to the Dark Ages if we didn’t comply.

However, I was a child of the 70s and I also work from home. I remember the terror of going to bed in the dark with a candle (worrying about house fires half the night) and without electricity, I can’t earn money to pay the darned dual-fuel bill at all.

My parents, who turn 80 this year, were so overwhelmed by the threats, they’ve been too scared to switch on their gas fire, and both have health conditions made worse by the cold.

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How many more elderly people will be sitting there now, still freezing, whilst the bosses and shareholders of British Gas rub their hands together – not to keep warm, but with glee?

What’s even more galling is that the mega-profit announcement follows the energy regulator Ofgem opening an urgent inquiry into the company force-fitting prepayment meters in the homes of vulnerable customers unable to pay their bills.

I seem to recall at the last Cabinet reshuffle in early February, Grant ‘Slippery’ Shapps being appointed to the fancy-sounding title of Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. So far, he’s been suspiciously quiet in response to the British Gas profits announcement.

If he’s going to justify his job, he needs to launch an urgent review into the energy markets and address an energy crisis which shows no signs of abating.