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24 April 2015, 08:37
People in Durham who disconnect their gas and electricity because they can't afford to top up the meter are to get help from the UK's first fuel bank.
The three-month trial will operate out of existing food banks, with struggling households receiving a £49 credit.
nPower, which is behind the scheme, says it could be enough to keep the lights and heating on for up to two weeks.
As with food banks, Citizens Advice centres, GPs, social workers and the police will help identify people who might be in need.
A maximum of three vouchers can be given out per "crisis".
One in six homes using energy meters disconnect supplies every year to save money, according to research by Citizens Advice.
That suggests some 1.6 million people could be going without gas and electricity.
The fuel banks will be piloted in 16 locations in County Durham and Kingston-upon-Thames and are open to customers of any energy company.
Matthew Cole, npower's head of policy said:
"It will provide immediate and hassle-free support to households where often the choice is between food and warmth."
The scheme is also being run in partnership with charities the Trussell Trust and Durham Christian Partnership, as well as National Energy Action.
The aim is to support 13,000 households in the first year and if successful the scheme could be expanded.