MORE than £50,000 owed to energy companies in County Durham has been written off thanks to the help of council bosses.

The initiative was part of efforts of combat fuel poverty, which is thought to affect more than a tenth of all households in the county.

And through the council’s Managing Money Better service, which has visited more than 440 homes in relation to heating costs, £95,000 has been saved on energy bills, including a debt write-off worth £54,000.

As well as helping families deal with utilities providers, help is also available to make properties more energy efficient.

Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes said: “If you’re with the two biggest energy suppliers, British Gas and Npower, on their standard tariff, you can pay up to £400 more than you need to.

“Getting people these kinds of savings are a lot easier than other things, like external wall insulation.

“There’s a lot of elderly people, or just people working who don’t have the time, who don’t realise they can get themselves a hell of a saving.”

Coun Wilkes was speaking at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Cliff Duff, the council’s housing project manager, told the panel he wanted to ‘fuel poverty-proof’ homes in the county while also reducing bills.

Low-income households are able to access grants through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), a fund which energy providers pay into to support measures such as energy efficient boilers, central heating, cavity wall insulation and loft insulation.

Since April 2019, 742 households in County Durham have benefited from the scheme t the tune of about £1.39m.

Mr Cliff also hinted at possible future upgrades to the UK’s energy infrastructure, which could see new fuels introduced to improve efficiency and cut costs.

“From 2025 the government is saying all new-build properties will move to another fuel, it may be electricity or something else,” he added.

“All replacements to the gas network are being done with hydrogen compatible pipes and in future if you replace your boiler it may be a gas boiler which is also compatible with hydrogen.”