TENANTS in Southend’s council homes are set to see their electric and gas bills cut by as much as 70 per cent.

The council set its charges for communal heated properties for 2023/24 when wholesale energy prices were high but the forecast prices have turned out to be lower than expected.

If the charges continue at the current rate, the council would accumulate to around £500,000 in overpayments from tenants, a report to the cabinet says.

As an example, under the plan to cut the cost, the weekly charge for a bedsit in Adams Elms House in Leigh would be reduced to £4.19 from £11.47, a 73 per cent reduction for the last 30 weeks of the year.

The report to the council’s cabinet, which meets next week, said: “There can be no doubt that the economic situation with high inflation, rising interest rates and energy costs rising at levels well above the inflation rate, is having and will continue to have a significant impact on our tenants.

“South Essex Homes will continue to work with all our tenants to ensure they maximise the assistance available to them through Housing Benefit and Universal Credit.

“We know that 73 per cent of our tenants are in receipt of means-tested benefits and will already be getting help towards the additional cost being incurred on energy this year.

“But South Essex Homes will target those households not currently in receipt of benefits to ensure that we are aware of their financial situation and that our residents are claiming all benefits that they may be entitled to.”

Matt Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal Ward, said: “This is definitely good news for residents, and it’s absolutely right that the council and South Essex Homes should be as quick, if not quicker, to drop charges to residents when circumstances allow as to raise them when the situation necessitates.

“However, we should be mindful that the cost of living crisis is still a reality in the lives of most residents. Inflation is still sky high, and it must be foremost in the mind of the council to do whatever it can to help residents get by.”

In 2022, the Government introduced the Energy Bills Support Scheme, a rebate on home electricity bills of £400, spread over six months and paid as a reduction in the monthly bill from the energy supplier