Wednesday, 6 January 2010

This 'pensioners burning books' story

God, its everywhere, in all the newspapers, in all the blogs, everywhere. In the Guardian, The Metro, The Seattle Post, EU Referendum, the list is endless.
Volunteers have reported that ‘a large number’ of elderly customers are snapping up hardbacks as cheap fuel for their fires and stoves.

Some PR/marketing company have done a great job, and some sites are smelling a rat, The Civil Society quotes the Association of Charity Shops as having heard no evidence of this new trend, and has firmly declaring that there is “no truth in it”.

I reckon it was a bit weird the were no charity shops named and the folk in them also nameless.
Workers at one charity shop in Swansea, in south Wales, described how the most vulnerable shoppers were seeking out thick books such as encyclopaedias for a few pence because they were cheaper than coal.

One assistant said: ‘Book burning seems terribly wrong but we have to get rid of unsold stock for pennies and some of the pensioners say the books make ideal slow-burning fuel for fires and stoves.

A lot of them buy up large hardback volumes so they can stick them in the fire to last all night.’
Which leaves only Jonathan Stearn from Consumer Focus and Ruth Davison from the National Housing Federation as the shameless publicity seekers.
Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, said: ‘If pensioners are taking such desperate measures to heat their homes it is shocking. With low wholesale prices and increasing profit margins, there is clearly room for energy companies to make price cuts immediately.’

Ruth Davison, of the National Housing Federation, said: ‘The spiralling cost of energy means heating homes has become a luxury rather than a necessity for many people – particularly the elderly, low paid and unemployed.’
Both of them? or was one just a witness dupe, tricked into providing a quote for a groundless news story. Kind of like that bit in Brass Eye where Labour MP Syd Rapson said that paedophiles were using "an area of Internet the size of Ireland".

I reckon Ruth is the dupe and Jonathan Stearn is the Chris Morris with a message to put out, demanding energy companies make price cuts right now.

Maybe the companies could, but according to the internet here, the wholesale cost of fuel makes up 50% of yer power bills, so a 10% drop in the wholesale price, would be a 5% drop in your fuel bill. Actually, there's this neat document here from early December detailing how profitable energy companies are.

I dunno where Stearn gets his info from but the NERA report says
Even though wholesale energy prices have fallen recently, gas and electricity suppliers are earning very little margin on their sales to domestic customers, according to analysis by NERA Economic Consulting (NERA). The analysis takes the energy regulator’s own research, and builds on it using data extracted from public sources or supplied by the energy companies.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, has previously estimated a “gross” margin between the domestic customer bill and some of the costs of a notional energy supply business. At the request of Energy UK, NERA has updated Ofgem’s method to current conditions and has extended it to include a more complete set of costs.

Based on current tariffs, Ofgem’s method would show an annual gross margin of £204 per dual fuel customer. NERA’s analysis shows that additional costs reported in public sources (including Ofgem itself) absorb £133 of this gross margin. Accounting for more realistic customer characteristics (e.g. average consumption and tariff discounts given to customers who shop around) absorbs another £39. NERA also estimates that the cost of specialised energy trading, needed to match energy purchases to customers’ demand, costs another £34 for a dual fuel customer. As a result, suppliers are not quite breaking even on dual fuel customers. (The annual overall margin is actually minus £1 per customer.) For customers who take electricity and gas from different suppliers, NERA finds that suppliers make on average a small positive overall margin – £9 and £10 per customer per year, respectively.


  1. Utter BS. Have you ever tried burning books? Paper burns terribly in book form. It also produces huge amounts of ash. I have a log burner and occasionally put waste paper on it - unless there is lots of heat being generated by logs already burning, the paper won't burn, you get very little extra heat and the ash smothers the fire.

  2. I tried putting a hardback in my boiler - wouldn't fit