#EnergyForAll Petition- Everyone has a right to the energy needed for heating, cooking, and light

https://www.change.org/p/energyforall-everyone-has-a-right-to-the-energy-needed-for-heating-cooking-and-light

Diane Skidmore 

Energy bills have risen dramatically in the last year – and the price cap is now to increase by 54% in April. This rise will leave millions of people like me struggling with cold homes. Many of us are facing damp, ill health, darkness, hunger and misery. Before the pandemic and the price increase around 10,000 people died each winter in the UK’s cold homes. Now even more will die.  

I’m a pensioner living on a council estate in south London, and even before the recent price increases it was a struggle for me and my neighbours to keep warm. I am asthmatic, and many of us have health problems, as well as problems with our housing conditions. My grandchildren don’t even visit me because my house is too cold. I’ve been working with Fuel Poverty Action for more than ten years now. There are too many people who cannot afford or struggle to keep warm.

To end this outrage, Fuel Poverty Action is calling for #EnergyForAll.

#EnergyForAll means giving everyone a free amount of energy – that is enough energy, free, to cover the basics like heating, cooking, and lighting – to give us all the security we need, taking account of people’s actual needs related to their age, health, and housing. To pay for this new pricing system, Energy for All, we’re urging the Government to introduce a Windfall Tax on the profits of oil and gas producers, traders and suppliers, and to STOP  subsidising fossil fuels with millions of pounds every day. 

The UK is a wealthy nation, with many billionaires – now more than ever due to fortunes made in the pandemic. Many companies, including energy companies, are clocking up exceptional profits – while we struggle to pay the prices they are charging.  

No one should get ill or die because of cold homes. No one should spend days in libraries or shopping centres to keep warm. Every home should be well repaired and insulated so we don’t need so much energy in the first place. We need your help to stop the outrage of fuel poverty – please sign and share this petition!

The government says we will get £200 back – but that will be a loan which we’ll have to repay in future bills. I have no idea where that money will come from in the future. They also say most people will get an extra £150 – very welcome, but far from enough.  From April, many will see an increase of around £700 per year – more if your home is poorly insulated, or if you are on a prepayment meter, like many people on low incomes. 

Instead of filling the pockets of fossil fuel companies, taxpayers money should be used to make sure everyone can keep warm. And the pricing system should be fair. 

At present, we pay more per unit of gas or electricity if we use less of it. At present, we pay a high standing charge even when we use very little energy, or none at all.   Our new pricing system, Energy for All,  would eliminate that injustice and turn pricing right side up. 

Please join my campaign to ensure we get #EnergyForAll. 

Note: “e4a: Energy for All” is a proposal for a new pricing structure for energy, and is entirely distinct from energy4all.co.uk which supports community renewable energy projects. Fuel Poverty Action also strongly supports the aims and cooperative initiatives of Energy4All. 

Heat and Light are Basic Rights: Energy Customers Need the Same Rights and Protections as Domestic Water Customers and We Need it Now

Fran Lobel

The current energy crisis means that millions of households will not be able to afford their energy bills or costs and will be plunged into fuel poverty. The sharpest end of fuel poverty is ‘fuel crisis’ whereby households who use prepayment meters ‘self-disconnect’ from their supply when they can’t top-up. Customers with prepayment meters pay for their energy use in advance, usually by taking a key or card device to a local shop, buying credit which is loaded to the device, and then topping up the meter with credit. When all credit is exhausted the lights go out and the heat cuts off. ‘Self-disconnection’ is the commonly understood term for when this happens, although its use is contentious due to the implication that it’s an outcome customers choose.

Self-disconnection: the sharpest end of fuel poverty

Energy suppliers’ too-common recourse to recuperating debt is to pressure customers to switch to a payment method that might not be suitable, safe or practical, without exploring alternative methods of repayment. Energy suppliers also remotely ‘mode-switch’ indebted smart metered customers to prepayment mode without adequate warning and safety and practicability checks. As a final measure, suppliers forcibly install prepayment meters under warrant where (often frightened, vulnerable customers, unsure of their rights) fail to engage with debt collection processes. 

 We have particular concerns about the effects of chronic self-disconnection on prepayment energy customers. We are also deeply concerned that energy suppliers will recuperate problem debt resulting from unprecedented price rises by forcibly installing large numbers of prepayment meters. Self-disconnection is a fate that awaits hundreds of thousands more customers who won’t be able to afford their monthly or quarterly bills.

Energy is required to support and participate in life

Domestic water utilities customers have been protected from loss-of supply due to unaffordability and debt since 1999. The use of ‘limiting devices’ i.e. trickle valves as a sanction and coercive means of debt recovery was also prohibited under the same legislation.

During the 1994 2nd reading of the Water Domestic Disconnections bill, the point was made that water is unique as an essential to life commodity as it has no substitute. By contrast, it was suggested customers disconnected from their energy supply could manage for a few days using a calor gas heater or a primus stove. 

 It’s hard now, nearly three decades later, to imagine this being considered usable advice for off-supply energy customers. Calor gas heaters and primus stoves are no longer common back-of cupboard items stashed for an emergency or a camping trip, and customers who can’t afford small cash top-ups are not in a position to peruse the Argos catalogue as an interim solution to staying adequately warm. There never has been a safe or adequate substitute for electricity; it’s always been unsafe for those who need to keep medicine in the fridge or rely on power for medical or mobility equipment to lose supply. More generally and aside from providing safe and reliable light, electricity is now essential for the phone and online connectivity required for children’s homework, study, working from home, job search, accessing medical services, advice and support services, financial inclusion, and maintaining a universal credit account. As fewer households have a landline phone, ironically, it is now usually a requirement to use a mobile phone or other chargeable device and to maintain a Wi-Fi or data allowance to access emergency support from energy suppliers.

Comparisons, in recent decades, between the essentialness of domestic water and energy supplies have eroded beyond the point of useful and meaningful distinction. 

Water prepayment meters were banned in 1998.

Water prepayment meters, known as ‘Budget Payment Units’ (BPUs) were outlawed in 1998 after a consortium of six local authorities brought a successful legal challenge to the installation and use of BPUs to The High Court. The local authorities argued that customers with BPUs were likely to suffer more frequent disconnections from their water supply than customers without, and this could lead to the spread of infectious diseases. 

The High Court ruled that multiple statutory safeguards in place to protect customers from disconnection were bypassed by the use of BPUs. The same principle and outcomes apply to energy customers who self-disconnect. It’s clear that energy customers now need parity of protection with water utilities customers from all kinds of disconnection, including self-disconnection. 

Too often not safe, not practical, & sometimes lethal

We have noted that energy suppliers are routinely non-compliant with safety and practicability rules regarding prepayment; this means that householders who take life-sustaining medication that requires refrigeration and those who use mobility aids and medical devices that rely on power face life-threatening situations. Self-disconnection is also dangerous for those who are elderly or very young, or have health conditions worsened by cold. We have noted that forced installations of prepayment meters are executed without regard to safety and practicability regulations.

Widespread destitution: from consumer debt problem to a public health crisis

More broadly, frequent self-disconnection leads to destitution and perpetuates inter-generational disadvantage. It means that families are unable to cook food supplied to them from food banks; a month’s supply of frozen food is spoiled and lost; parents can’t log into Universal Credit accounts, miss messages, and then get sanctioned; adults go to work and job interviews without being able to have a shower; children can’t do their homework after school (and boil kettles to bathe in the mornings before school).  

It is true that energy customers are now only very rarely disconnected from their supply due to debt, but this ‘good news’ message is misleading. Energy suppliers don’t disconnect indebted energy customers because this no longer a necessary sanction; suppliers use warrants and rights of entry legislation, originally established in order to disconnect customers, to install prepayment meters and let householders self-disconnect from their supply. (Alan Murdie, the long-time editor of The Fuel Rights Handbook has questioned the lawfulness of re-purposing this legislation to forcibly install a different payment method device.)

 If actioned widely in response to large numbers of customers defaulting on unaffordable bills, this practice threatens to turn a consumer debt problem into a into a public health crisis. 

The prohibition that came into force in 1999 on disconnecting households from their domestic water supply was made as a paradigm-shifting public health measure. Indebted domestic water utilities customers can face legal and other debt enforcement action, but measures that threaten life, health, and cause severe detriment to all members, including children and infants, of an indebted household are rightly prohibited.

The energy regulator considered a prohibition on all disconnections as an option in the future should this be required…….

The energy regulator consulted from 2018-2020 on improving outcomes for consumers who experience self-disconnection and self-rationing, and regulations designed to protect prepayment consumers from the kind of detriments outlined above came into force in December 2020. We have noted that energy supplier compliance with these regulations is poor and none have faced enforcement action as a result. 

  In August 2019, during the pre-statutory phase of its consultation to improve outcomes for consumers who experience self-disconnection, Ofgem noted the following: 

We note that there is currently no obligation on regulated companies which prohibits gas and electricity disconnections on all meter types, except in certain circumstances and for particular customer groups. Disconnection due to debt should only be considered as a very last resort by suppliers and disconnections due to debt are now very infrequent. At this stage, we are not proposing to introduce a prohibition on all disconnections, similar to one in the water sector, but we will consider this as one option in the future should this be required

The above was given serious consideration before the pandemic; energy customers have since been hit concurrently and consecutively with the effects of the pandemic, disruption and additional costs associated with multiple supplier failures, and, now, unprecedented price rises. The ‘future’ referred to above should be considered now and the option is indeed required.

Measures required now and an end to forced installations of prepayment meters

  • As an immediate-term measure, energy supplier licence conditions intended to protect householders from disproportionately aggressive debt collection tactics should be robustly enforced, if breached.
  •  Energy suppliers are quick to recommend prepayment meters to indebted customers as a means of helping the household to budget. Where chronic unaffordability is the underlying issue, the prepayment meter is used to self-ration rather than budget and self-disconnection is inevitable. Licence conditions that compel energy suppliers to consider the customer’s individual circumstances and ability to pay should be robustly enforced, if breached.
  • Energy suppliers should also be compelled to proactively review their prepayment customer base to check if prepayment is safe and practicable for new and existing customers and follow through with the required actions.
  • Energy customers are currently protected by a prohibition on installation of prepayment meters under warrant where the installation would traumatise the householder due to their mental incapacity and/or psychological state. We hold the view that any practice brutal to a degree to traumatise any customer groups, in any circumstances, should be prohibited and call for the practice to be prohibited altogether. 

What would a prohibition on self-disconnection look like? 

Some lateral thinking and ingenuity would be required. The water sector avoided the scale of this regulatory and technical would-be dilemma as only a relatively small number (around 21,000) water prepayment meters had been installed before the prohibition came into force.  It’s timely to consider the technical issues in relation to the spectacular take-off of FPA’s #EnergyForAll petition which accrued 240,000 signatures within days of being launched and is still gathering pace at just over 400,000 (at time of writing). 

If implemented, #EnergyForAll would ameliorate the worst problems currently faced by prepayment customers and would prevent this payment method being enforced upon indebted credit-billing customers.  As things are, prepayment customers could still be at risk of self-disconnection if they exceeded their allowance. This would mean that energy customers most likely to be low-income and have other vulnerabilities would not benefit from the protection of energy as a right in the way that credit-billing customers (far less likely to be low-income and vulnerable) would benefit. 

But technical problems have technical solutions which can be found if the right to energy as an essential-to-life and basic right is understood and implemented as a matter of urgency.

Since 1999, water companies have remained in profitable private ownership, despite predictions at the time that the removal of disconnection as a sanction would lead to ruinous levels of bad debt. Water Utilities companies have learned to engage with indebted customers and recover debt using a variety of methods including legal action, but excluding brutality. 

Energy customers need parity of protection, now more than ever. Consumer debt should never lead to destitution. 

We can’t be disconnected from water – why is it still ok for heat and light?

Fran Lobel has worked with Repowering London as an energy advisor and advocate and continues to work on energy and utilities affordability and energy rights issues. She has a particular interest in rights and protections for prepayment customers. 

Press Release: FPA tells Ofgem: standing charge discrimination must stop now. 

Fuel Poverty Action has sent a letter to Ofgem challenging new discriminatory policies in advance of this Friday’s price cap rise. Fuel Poverty Action reports that the administrative costs of taking on customers from failed energy suppliers has been loaded onto the fixed, standing charge element of energy bills, which nobody can escape. It puts lives at further risk as people who are already rationing heat and power are forced to pick up the tab for industry failures, which Ofgem sanctioned. 

Fuel Poverty Action’s co-director Ruth London said, “Why have Ofgem decided to make the poorest customers pay for their bad decisions and for bad practice in the industry? This huge injustice must be urgently reversed. Then standing charges should be ended, and we should move instead to Energy For All, a pricing structure where everyone will get enough energy free to cover their basic needs for heating, cooking, and power.” 

She adds, “Prepayment meters are another way that people with the least resources — and often with the leakiest, most poorly insulated homes — are forced to pay the highest price for fuel. These meters are often imposed without consent, cost more than direct debit, and have the effect of cutting people off supply. As prices increase, it is absolutely urgent to end such upside-down policies.

“The support offered by the government – essentially a loan that customers will have to pay back, and some help for council tax payers – barely scratch the surface of what is needed. Much more drastic changes are urgent, to ensure the basic right to warmth.”

The move away from standing charges is a step towards the new pricing structure: Energy or All, a basic supply of energy free to all, to cover needs like heating, lighting, and cooking. 

Energy for All has gained momentum rapidly with over 300,000 signatories on a petition launched by Fuel Poverty Action. Signatories have joined Fuel Poverty Action in writing to Ofgem and have so far sent 1,200 letters to CEO Jonathan Brearley. 

ENDS

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Or email us on [email protected]

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interviews.

Show your organisation’s support for #Energy4All

To show your organisation’s support for Energy All, please fill out the form underneath the statement below.

Energy for All Statement of Support

The increases in energy prices are already causing a huge crisis for millions of UK residents. People’s health and even lives are at risk, and increased debts and disconnections are inevitable.  Now prices are to go up even further, to unprecedented heights.  

The measures proposed by the government to soften the blow barely scratch the surface of what is needed.  Even proposals by charities and others to increase means-tested benefits and support for people in fuel poverty fall very far short, and, as the crisis widens, they do not reach enough people. In many cases proposals are also regressive – benefiting well off customers at the expense of the poorest.

We believe that the UK is a country with huge financial resources, and that no one should be forced to go cold, or go hungry in order to pay their energy bills.  

We therefore ask the government to implement the proposal from Fuel Poverty Action, which is calling for “Energy for All”. “Energy for All” would provide a basic level of energy for every household, enough for them to maintain enough heating, lighting, cooking, and other essential services. FPA say it should be funded from three sources: 

  • A windfall tax on the obscene profits being made by energy companies on the back of the prices they are charging now
  • An end to fossil fuel subsidies, which cost the UK government millions of pounds every day, only to perpetuate our dependence on polluting fuels with volatile prices which are also destroying the climate
  • Higher tariffs on energy used over the amount required for their different circumstances, to be paid by the many people who are profligate with their usage, contributing substantially to climate change, because they do not need to count the cost.  

Energy for All must be accompanied by a massive insulation programme, using an army of well-trained, well-paid retrofit workers, to further improve health, bring down bills, and cut emissions of CO2.  At the same time, a switch to renewable energy is urgent. Further investment and subsidies for gas and oil only perpetuate dependence on fuels which are volatile in price and lethal in their effect on the climate.

At present, due to fixed “standing charges”, the people who pay most per kWh are those who have cut their energy use down to practically zero, while those who pay least are the ones who can afford to heat a mansion. Energy for All would reverse this perverse effect of market pricing, and would instead give people the security we need and deserve in these unpredictable times. 

We recognise that there are many details, implications, to be worked out and objections to be dealt with, but we are sure that Energy for All would be better than the failing market we have now. We urge the government not to delay. Companies unwilling to implement Energy for All could be taken into public hands. If the market cannot supply households’ heat needs, it is not doing its job.

To share your organisation’s support for Energy for All, fill out the form below. If you have any problems with the form below, you can also fill out out directly on google forms by clicking here.

Malus Court Watergate

Graeme Langton and Eddie Farrell, Malus Court residents

Following Pendleton Together’s revelation late Friday afternoon by letter, Malus Court residents will be without water for 30 hrs this coming Wednesday. How will this affect residents?

On Malus Court we have a range of ages and disabilities living on here. Ages range from new-born babies up to residents in their 90’s. Disabilities include mental health conditions, dementia, end of life diagnosis and conditions keeping residents bed bound. For example, the resident who is 90 years the day before the water switch off needs constant care – help with bathing and medications and regular toilet needs throughout the day and night. He needs to be kept warm and eat regular hot meals. His wife in her late 80’s also has medical needs and also needs medical care daily being diabetic. The strain on their health is enormous, not only physical but mentally as well. They struggle to cope heating their flat due to spiralling bills that come with a heating system that is not suitable with the property. There is no insulation on the property. Malus Court is under fire watch since Grenfell. Fire risk recommendations since 2017 have been ignored. And this couple live 7 floors up, fearing if a fire did happen they would die in the building.

Now we have ‘Watergate’, switching water off for 30 hrs. Pendleton Together, our landlords, and Salford Council who own the properties have put these measures in place for the Watergate disruption:

  • They have offered use of ( 1 ) toilet for 84 flats totalling over 100 residents, situated over 100 metres away and only accessed by leaving Malus Court and braving the weather that day/night.
  • They have offered bottled water if we contact them or go fetch it ourselves. ( I am sure the bedbound residents will mange that (not)) .
  • They also refuse to open their offices for residents to have face to face conversations with management, although the rest of the country have returned to work. But let’s be thankful, they have offered to come to the back door and speak outside with residents through resident liaison officers who have no authority and repeat same answer – ‘we don’t know, someone will ring you back’ – which never happens.

So this gentleman and his wife will have no water for 30 hrs. They’ll have no toilet facilities in their home to use as they would not be able flush toilet when they both need access to a toilet all day/night due to their medical needs. They cannot wash and keep clean for 30hrs. But if they walk 100 metres and queue up outside they might be able use the one toilet available if they don’t soil themselves waiting or they die due to the cold or exertions to get there. This is just one example. How do families feed babies and wash them? 

All residents should be put in hotels or alternative accommodation until this Watergate has ended. 

The past years since Grenfell residents have had to endure:

  • Windows leaking, and going into debt because of heating bills for a system that does not warm your home but costs hundreds of pounds per month. 
  • No insulation on building making them very, very cold. 
  • Fire risk recommendations not actioned. 
  • Vermin infestation/ silver fish. 

The list is endless. And now Watergate and still our ward councillors, local mayor and Manchester mayor and MP ignore our plight and refuse to visit or even open dialogue with residents over our concerns. Lives are at risk and the local authorities are failing in their duty of care. And if something tragic happens while we wait for them to help, ‘Lessons must be learnt’ will be the answer.

We need a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies profiting from fuel poor consumers

Isabel Davies

The gas crisis is bringing misery and death to people already struggling to survive this winter.

It is the result of the government and Ofgem failing to take basic precautions for when international gas prices rise: 

  • they allowed gas storage units to close; 
  • failed to invest in meaningful energy efficiency programs; 
  • and left privatised retailers to expose consumers to volatile wholesale prices without buying in advance. 

We know that UK consumers cannot afford to pay energy companies more money for these mistakes. The money must come from those benefiting from the crisis.

In October we proposed a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel extractors. We argued that some part of the $65 billion they made between July and October must not be spent re-investing in fossil fuel exploration, development and extraction, which will further accelerate the climate crisis. Instead, a proportion of the excessive profits must be spent helping consumers keep warm and put food on the table. 

Analysts now forecast that the average energy bill will rise almost 50%, to about £1865, this April. National Energy Action estimates this will push another 2 million people into fuel poverty, while of course creating further pain for the 4 million people already unable to pay their bills.

Across the industry, experts such as retail chief executives, former energy ministers and belatedly the labour party are now joining us in calling the government to announce a windfall tax before consumer prices rise in April. 

We demand again that the windfall revenues from the international gas crisis are spent on helping people stay warm this winter. To ensure the poorest are reached:

  • This should be via a flat payment to each household and not means tested. 
  • The money should not be spent on funding reduced bills through VAT removal, which would disproportionately benefit the richest consumers.

Storm Arwen – Residents ask ‘Why can’t we get the compensation we are entitled to NOW?’

On 26 November Storm Arwen hit the UK, and lights went out all over north east England, northern Ireland, and Scotland  Over a million homes were affected. Not only light but heat, leaving many households in isolated, windswept rural areas in a desperate situation. 

While old stone cottages in North East England are primarily heated by oil or coal, electricity is required to run the systems, and sometimes to pump and filter drinking water. Insulation is generally poor, and the cold is extreme. Yet action has been slow. Over a week after the outage began, several thousand homes were still without power, and now, nearly two weeks later, there are still some homes without power, even as Storm Barra sweeps in, causing yet further outages.

FPA has been in touch with one active local resident in Northumberland for several years, grappling with the thorny question of how such homes can be affordably, and sustainably, kept warm. In this crisis he turned to us again, and we worked to help ensure people were able to get temporary power supply from generators. We have now sent the following letter to Jonathan Brearley, CEO of Ofgem, attaching compelling evidence of the urgent need for compensation to be released immediately and in cash. For a brief verbal recording of the argument for this, listen here.

Dear Jonathan Brearley, 

Thank you for your prompt action on the issue of generators. The assurances we received from Northern Powergrid on this issue did not accord with what we heard from people on the ground, but we understand that everyone is -- or at least soon will be -- back on the grid so the generators are no longer an issue, at least at this time. What is, however, urgent is the way in which guaranteed service payments are to be made to affected households, and particularly the timing of these payments.  

What will Ofgem do to ensure that people are not left desperately short of money over Christmas, or even longer, and that they are not forced to carry huge debts on behalf of their power supplier? 

I attach Charles Palmer’s evidence of just how people are suffering financially, in the absence of compensation more such stories are pouring in all the time. This is followed by his explanation of why every affected household should be advanced a portion of the compensation they are entitled to, and why this should happen now.

We’ll look forward to hearing from you.  

Ruth London

Responses from residents online

The below are the comments our local contact collected from a single community Facebook Group, Hexham Matters in the space of two hours on 7 December. There are dozens of similar groups. Some of the people worst affected are not on the internet or social media. But evidence is pouring in of how badly people are being affected. There are more responses every hour. Names here have been changed.

Tim:  Not so much of a hardship story, but still mighty frustrating. Power went out, braced it with ice on the windows for two night before booking myself and family into a local hotel (separate rooms and an “extra night” due to me working nights)

All the usual, lost all our month’s food bought the day before the power cut, all the store bought food over the last 10 days that we never knew we’d be able to claim for so didn’t keep any forms of receipts until two days ago.

No contact at all even after requested by local MP due to health condition. Hours wasted trying to ring their help line to get the same script as others. 3 different engineers turned up over the last 11 days. All three said they had no idea there was no power (ne20) even though there was at least 4 reports by the morning of the 27th. Outage map changing both the expected fix AND the reported on date (I have screenshots, so do other affected neighbours)

Oh, and Northern Powergrid almost got my Facebook account banned for spam for commenting on an update post saying we’ve had no updates 🤦‍♂️ (update to that, they removed every comment and reply I tried to make about their lack of contact 😒 got time to play on Facebook but no time to actually contact people) 

Thankfully power restored about 10am yesterday (not that I knew until I was at work at 5pm so had to pay an extra hotel night)

Biggest problem for me right now as someone how does their Christmas shopping in December… I’ve blown my entire paycheck for this month and dug out over half of the Christmas fund… Unless we get our refunds before the 22nd and amazon prime hasn’t cancelled my membership… No Christmas for us! Hand written cards and drawings under a snapped branch from the local fallen tree… Doing absolute wonders for my depression and anxiety, knowing after saving hard all this year I can barely bring any Christmas cheer 👍

Linda: “This was exactly my comments to them why would we get receipts we didn’t know they would refund when I ordered an emergency extra load of coal and rushed to costa to but hot drinks and toasties for my disabled son and 86 yr old mother my first thought was getting hot food/drinks into them and keeping as warm as possible.”

Sandra: “A few of us in our village had a problem in that once the power came on, the motors on the central heating burnt out meaning an extra 5 days without heat. Between power off and power on, heating systems broke down. We will be getting invoices for heating engineers and plumbers – took 3 visits.”

Alice: “I live in Ridsdale,  had no power for 8 days along withrest of village . I’m lucky, I own a cafe in Hexham so ate there most nights. Obviously  no receipts but as a family of 5 we used up stock from the business. How do we claim/prove that?”

Sylvia: “All well and good saying that now, however we were unable to access any information for 6 days so have no receipts 🤔

Rebecca: We are a family of 4, power went off the Friday night of storm we had nothing until we got generators finally yesterday. Electricity still off now so Wi-fi is so I can’t work. 

Our nearest family is 20 miles away so have been travelling back and forward for meals and warmth and to use Wi-fi. I work from home so internet was a necessity. Fuel we are using is getting ridiculous as husband works where we live so he needed to be here. 

Kept getting calls saying would be on next day so didn’t see urgency at first and obviously didn’t know about receipts. 

We have an autistic son and it has been incredibly unsettling for him and us. He was so upset when we got back Sunday to another dark and cold house he hates the house and wants to move (which we are going to now but that’s another issue with landlord not helping anyone either) 

Our neighbour has had a stroke and is disabled and dependant on bed and chair and his wife has been besides herself. We all had no signal for ages so I was trying to get away from the house and ring whenever I could but advice I got from phone line was she would have to ring 999. 

Liz: “Hi regarding your post about lack of power I’ve now been without power since the storm apparently due back on today fingers crossed so been without power heating or water for 10 days . No communication from power for first week and I had to ring them as I’m a frontline nurse and needed uniforms washed etc I’ve had to fork out over 500 pounds to keep my family safe warm and hydrated and now worrying how I’m going to afford Christmas food let alone presents .”

JT: “Just a reply to your post . Where to start .

A used nearly a month of logs in a week . I had to throw away a full freezer of food away . As well as 2 fridges full . Paid for 2 nights. In a hotel on the coldest nights . As it was -4 in my house . Paid for petrol to take my disabled children to South Yorkshire to stay with family as it was just 2 cold in house . Paid petrol their And petrol back as there was nowhere for me to stay . I lost all our tropical fish as the water in the tank froze . We never heard a thing from northern power or council . And as I’m a full time carer for my children I’m on benefits. So money was tight before this . But now I’m stressed as lets face it if it takes as long to be compensated as it did to get the power back it will be spring before we get any 

[Mr Palmer notes: -Tim is not the only person who saw his Facebook comments curtailed or banned from commenting. I also experienced this]

Compensation needed now, in cash

It is customers’ statutory right to be compensated during power outages.  The maximum amount legally required for this Guaranteed Standards payment is £700, but Northern Powergrid have agreed to waive that ceiling in the light of the long delay in restoring power after Storm Arwen.  The problem is that the compensation IS NOT AVAILABLE NOW, and even when it arrives, it is normally paid in the form of a credit on electric bills, NOT IN THE FORM OF CASH that can be used for day to day survival.  

Since statutory compensation is due to us by law, why cannot at least a portion of it — eg £500 per household — be made available now, in cash, so people can get through December?

In addition to the Guaranteed Standards Payment, Northern Powergem have also agreed to help with the cost of food, water, accommodation, kennels for pets, solid fuel, gas fuel, gas heaters, generator hire, and laundry.  They say, “Please provide proof of purchase to this mailbox. We consider the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”

We appreciate the offer, but there are some problems with this:

1- expenses are all very well but people need the money to spend  before they can claim and we know that most of us have spent an entire month’s budget in a matter of days and some are facing considerable stress and hardship until payday or if and when compensation is paid. 

2- receipts.  How, exactly, are people to claim for burning coal.and firewood and butane that were purchased some time ago? People rarely buy coal and wood by the sack, they buy it in bulk for the winter or buy several bulk purchases throughout winter.

We bought 1/2 a tonne of coal 3 weeks ago. That would have lasted us until mid February, we have burned 3/4s of it plus many loads of firewood donated by a neighbour over the crisis. How do we claim for that?

3- there appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding around how rural budgets work. Diesel and petrol are by far the largest household expense. As a result we budget on how many trips we need to do into town, to the schools, to every facility or service that most urban people can walk to or get public transport. There is little or no public transport to many of our outlying communities. The crisis has completely  thrown that budgeting. Let me explain. If you live remotely then you are probably using at least a tank of fuel a week, if you have a family, based on x number of trips perhaps more perhaps less. If you lived 5 miles from your nearest Community Center and were forced to head there 3 times a day to get hot food and warmth then you are driving an additional 30 miles a day, unbudgeted for. This means that that tank of fuel that lasts a week now lasts 3 days. Furthermore with one fuel station at Bellingham, between Hexham and Jedburgh, following the closure over the past 10 years even the act of buying fuel uses fuel.  

Are NPG going to make allowances for additional travel expenses, taxis to community centres or food sources or the cost of fuel due to the increased essential travel?

4- Lastly, in refusing to countenance releasing even a portion of the compensation payment to households affected, NPG are essentially expecting us to carry the debt until that payment is made.  People will be borrowing from banks, credit cards, families and friends and other sources, some decidedly less than advisable. Why should they carry this stress and burden especially in December?

Storm Arwen exposes critical problems in heating rural homes

Fancy being left for a week or two in an isolated farmhouse far from any shops, with no power for heat, lighting, phones or the internet, and outdoor/indoor temperatures never far from zero? That’s what happened to Charles Palmer, his family and many thousands of other households after Storm Arwen. It took Northern Powergrid over a week and in some cases nearly two to restore power, even with the (late) involvement of the MOD. Some properties have not yet had power restored. Hard to heat in the best of times, many homes have been the temperature of fridges.

Listen here as he describes the impact on household finances and the desperate financial situation some are now facing this December.

We are gathering reports from people who are struggling to survive in the absence of the compensation they are entitled to.

We need your help and support in getting the message out about the plight of those impacted. There has so far been only limited attention to this in Parliament. A full inquiry into the disastrous response by Northern Powergrid should lead to fundamental change — it should never happen again.

Please help amplify our posts and calls to action of Ofgem and Northern Powergrid.

Old stone farmhouses and cottages are hard to insulate, although materials like hempcrete may make this easier in the future. Making these homes energy efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels is clearly an urgent matter, which cannot be solved by one-size-fits-all technical solutions. 

In Mr Palmer’s rural upland area, most people are reliant on oil or LPG and coal or firewood. Oil and LPG must be bought in bulk — simply unaffordable for many families. Government regulations have imposed a switch to lower bitumen coal, which is supposed to be “greener” but Mr Palmer says it burns so badly that it keeps going out, bungs up the stoves with waste, and in any case you need far more of it so the carbon savings only exist on paper. As we’ve always said, if it doesn’t work – it isn’t green. 

Meanwhile, electric power is essential for keeping the heating systems going, as well as for lighting, and often for pumping and filtering water from wells. And some, relatively few homes, now base their heating on heat pumps, which are totally dependent on electricity. The lack of back-up provision of generators or fuel in some new homes built with heat pumps, and the huge delay in getting power back up and running, has led to residents being evacuated with hypothermia during the prolonged power failure. If heat pumps are to be the key technology in transition to lower carbon homes, they need to be installed with attention to local realities and the changing climate, as well as the need for thoroughly well-insulated homes.

Unsurprisingly in this situation we are hearing anecdotal reports of deaths related to the incident and more are expected. There’s a statutory requirement for Northern Powergrid to compensate its customers, and Ofgem has lifted the usual ceiling of £700 for compensation, for present purposes. However, no one knows how or when these Guaranteed Service payments will be paid. In any case the money, when it arrives, will do nothing to ease the present crisis. Some people have used up a whole month’s budget in a week and are left without anything to buy more food or fuel, never mind the costs of the festive season. Some have been reliant on takeaway dinners, some have had to evacuate their homes and stay in hotels, and many have lost the whole contents of their freezers, normally kept well stocked for winter emergencies. Soup kitchens have had plenty of Christmas turkeys, to turn into pre-Christmas soup. But with little or no public transport in these areas, many people cannot easily reach soup kitchens, cannot afford the petrol or diesel to get to towns or even villages, and cannot leave their homes and abandon their animals. Some have been reached at home by a massive effort of volunteers and local businesses and services, but even where help has been offered it has often been far from adequate. Many people have also lost work hours, or have been forced to use up their holiday entitlement.

In a crisis like this, it is shocking that people have not been able to rely on their supplier to keep them safe. Mr Palmer reports that a local business installed a number of generators for isolated homes, but after some initial successful installations they then found they couldn’t get the necessary authorisation released by Northern Powergrid to purchase any more: apparently Northern Powergrid said they wanted to “bring the incident back into the business”. Were they afraid of reputational damage from not being able to do the job themselves, when they clearly had no capacity to do this? An email from FPA to Ofgem late on Sunday, 5 December saw Ofgem immediately emailing Northern Powergrid:

For the avoidance of doubt, we expect network companies to make every effort to reconnect customers as soon as possible. This includes maximising the use of partner organisations to deliver support to customers, including gensets to reconnect domestic properties that are still without power. We do not have any requirement that all the work must be done by NPG themselves.” 

As power returns to the hills and valleys, we are now asking Ofgem to ensure that an advance of the statutory compensation is paid now, in cash, so that people can get through December.

Winter Deaths Protest 2021

26 November was a cold day but hundreds turned out in Westminster to mark the “excess winter deaths” due to fuel poverty in 2020 – 21.  The statistics published that day were confused and obscured due to Covid, but even in an average year over 10,000 people die in cold homes.  This year Fuel Poverty Action and the National Pensioners Convention co-organised a rally outside Parliament, and delivery of a letter to 10 Downing St.  Speakers Ruth London from FPA, Lord Prem Sikka, and Sue Ferns, TUC President, all emphasised that these deaths are totally avoidable — that there is plenty of money available in this wealthy country.

The protest was joined by a wide range of organisations including trade unions, pensioners’ organisations, tenants, and Friends of the Earth, who kindly provided a sound system for the day (full list below — thank you for coming!)  And singer-songwriter Gary Jackson warmed us up to start the event with his rousing new song:  “Heating or Eating”.

The day ended with the letters given in at Downing Street, a huge wreath laid at the cenotaph for this past year’s fallen fighting the cold, and a strong message to the Prime Minister who had begged for forgiveness when he lost his place in speaking to the CBI — No, Prime Minister, you will not be forgiven!

Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) and London Region National Pensioners Convention (NPC) were joined by TUC London East and South East region (TUC LESE), TSSA, CWU, UNISON retired members, NUJ 60+, Thames Valley NPC, South East NPC, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group, Southwark Pensioners Action Group, Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) London and Scotland, Friends of the Earth, Camberwell and Peckham Labour, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations.

You can read Ruth London’s speech from the event here. See below for photos from the event.