Help us fight fuel poverty as energy prices soar – make a regular donation to Fuel Poverty Action’s Crowdfunder

Fuel Poverty Action’s Crowdfunder needs your support!

On Oct 1, half a million more households will be at risk of Fuel Poverty, having to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.

As the costs of fossil fuels soar this autumn, everyone is being hit by rising bills. Many are already desperate, and 1.5 million people have also been affected by their energy supplier going bust in the past few days. Meanwhile Universal Credit is to be cut. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and this will increase by another 500,000 households when the Price Cap is raised on 1st October. 

For ten years, Fuel Poverty Action has been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing. We are a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. You can support the Coalition’s petition for urgent financial assistance to those affected by the energy price crisis alongside rapid roll-out of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis 

Cold homes kill. Help us fight for affordable, sustainable energy.

We work with people organising to make their homes fit to live in – battling energy suppliers or landlords, fighting for their own, their families’ and neighbours’ survival. We insist that “affordable” and “sustainable” homes and energy are not incompatible goals, but two sides of a coin, and equally urgent. 

To do this –  we need you!

The best help you could give us is to sign up for a monthly donation. If you can’t do this, you can make a one off donation; or share our crowdfunder in your networks.

Thank you for the overwhelming support you have given us so far! We could not do this without you.

– Alexa, Ruth, Gianluca, Joana, Maddy, Phil, Rhiannon, Diane, Frances L, Frances S, Graeme, Steve, Ellen, Aisha, Bridgit, Matthew and everyone else at Fuel Poverty Action.

It’s our 10th birthday!

You are warmly invited to Fuel Poverty Action’s 10th birthday party!

We are bringing members, friends and allies – both past and present – together on Thursday 30 September, 2021, to share stories, achievements, memories from the past, and hope for the future. We will also be launching our Crowdfunder to raise money to keep our part-time worker – Maddy. 

As energy prices soar, endangering people’s health and even lives, FPA is needed now more than ever. 

WHAT: Fuel Poverty Action’s 10th birthday celebration and Crowdfunder launch

WHERE: Zoom

WHEN: 10th Birthday Party 7pm, following our 6.30pm AGM 

RSVP: If you are planning on joining, please RSVP to [email protected] with the email subject ‘registration FPA 10th birthday’.

Remarkably, ten years on from its formation in 2011, Fuel Poverty Action is still going, still equally devoted to both poverty elimination and climate goals, and determined to both acknowledge and find ways to overcome contradictions, or apparent contradictions, between the two. It is not common for small grassroots organisations without consistent funding, or support from academic, industry, or NGO institutions, to survive so long. When that happens, like in the case of FPA, it’s worth celebrating!

At the time of a gas crisis, coupled with the price cap being lifted on 1st October, let’s come together to share and reflect on what we have all been doing. We invite you all to come see the inside of what it’s like to campaign on fuel poverty, housing and climate change all together. Take a moment to remember, celebrate and commemorate with us; then gear up to bring this to the ongoing battle.

The final portion of the event will be the launch of our Crowdfunder! Fuel Poverty Action needs more resources to be able to meet the ever-growing demand for our time, accumulated experience and expertise. Help us make sure that we can continue to stand up for families affected by fuel poverty for another ten years by supporting our Crowdfunder launch.

We hope to see many of you there!

-Alexa, Maddy, Ruth, and the rest of the FPA team

Holding feet to the fire: Peabody tenants confront unaccountable heating and housing management

A home is not affordable if you can't afford to heat it

FPA’s new Dossier published 3 April brings out in the open the sense of impunity, the buck-passing, and the dazzling incompetence that have made “home” a place of nightmares for tenants of a social landlord. It details tenants’ battle for affordable heat and accountability and how they have managed to win – so far – a reduction of their tariff by one half. It also explores the complexities of heat network (or “district heating”) pricing and the position of social housing tenants on a private, mostly leaseholder, estate.

With heat networks and housing developments like this one becoming more and more common, the new Dossier serves as a warning, a guide to needed changes, and a handbook for action for the growing number of residents affected by unaccountable heating and housing systems.

You can read the press release for the dossier below. For the full report see here.

Press Release (EMBARGOED till 00.00 4 April)

Fuel Poverty Action is today publishing a remarkable exposé showing how families have been left in the cold because their unaffordable heat network and their social housing tenancies have created a legal limbo. For their heating, they are tied to one supplier, but they have no control of prices, no contract, no legal rights, and no one to complain to. This crisis has been created by a toxic – but increasingly common – mix of unaccountable housing and unaccountable heating. The tenants have led a long fight for affordable warmth and against the odds, have won major price reductions.

Phoenix Works is a new build development in Tower Hamlets with 28 ”affordable rent” tenants housed by Peabody housing association(1). When they moved in, tenants “couldn’t believe” what their prepayment meters were consuming. Many simply could not pay the up to £250 a month required to keep warm. Some had to move out and stay with relatives, some got ill, some went deeply into debt. Meanwhile their landlord and heat provider passed the buck to each other, displaying a sense of impunity, and dazzling incompetence.

The tenants’ heat is provided by a “Heat Network”. Heat networks are like central heating for a whole estate, and are being heavily promoted and subsidised by the government on the grounds that they offer a low-carbon alternative(2). Customers of a Heat Network cannot switch, nor is there any price cap or, as yet, any regulation. Assessed as eligible for “affordable housing”, the ex-council tenants had no warning of the extra costs, and no heat contract. They could not even find out who was responsible for their heating and tariffs: the estate management, KFH, or their social landlord, Peabody?

Ms Lewis, who has led the fight for affordable heating at Phoenix Works says,

“Peabody can’t escape responsibility for allowing tenants to suffer. Some have had to choose between heating homes and feeding families during winter months, all because of the lack of information and accountability from the very beginning.  Do we have to just put up and shut up with whatever charges KFH decide to throw at us?  We would never have chosen to live this way had we been given the choice.”

Ruth London from FPA says, 

“Cold kills. 10,000 people die each winter in the UK because they can’t afford to heat their homes.  And that was the number before a respiratory pandemic! 

Heat Networks are supposed to provide low carbon, low cost, reliable heat. But FPA work with residents in many such estates who are fighting huge bills, constant heating breakdowns, or both.The sheer unaccountability of both heating and housing management has never been more blatant than at Phoenix Works.” 

With Fuel Poverty Action(3), tenants are calling for a public inquiry to uncover what has happened and what structural and legal changes are needed to prevent it happening anywhere again.

Tenants from Phoenix Works are available for interview.  Also available are residents from other heat network estates in Tower Hamlets and all over London who are suffering from high prices or frequent outages, both of which can leave households without either heat or hot water.  

As well as Fuel Poverty Action, the Phoenix Works tenants have won support from SHAC, who contributed to the dossier, from the Heat Networks team at BEIS  ([email protected]), and from their MP, Apsana Begum.

The Dossier is published HERE on our website or you can download a PDF here.

For substantial coverage in The Times see HERE.

NOTES

  1. New developments are required to set aside a proportion of flats for “affordable housing”. Rents in these lower standard apartments are up to 80% of market rates, which in some places, like London, can be extremely high, and tenants may face lower standards and “poor doors”. Most of the other residents are leaseholders.
  2. Heat networks pipe heat into homes from a communal gas boiler. Also known as “District Heating”, this system are said to save carbon emissions by being more efficient than gas boilers, by producing electricity at the same time as heat if using a central “Combined Heat and Power” boiler, and because they have the potential to use renewable or waste heat sources instead of combustion. But where systems are badly designed, installed, or maintained, residents can go cold, and carbon savings in practice can be nil.
  3. Fuel Poverty Action is a grassroots organisation started in 2011, which since 2017 has been supporting residents all over London who are organising for reliable and affordable heat from their heat networks. In 2017 we published Not Fit For Purpose, a report on the heat network on Myatts Field North, which is now being pressed into service again by residents there. Our many consultation responses on the issue can be found here.

Advice for people on heat networks (“District Heating”) having trouble with outages, high prices, or both

At Fuel Poverty Action we are dealing with many situations of this kind where people are being left in the cold, or without hot water, again and again and sometimes for long periods. FPA are working with residents in several estates, but we are constantly being contacted by more, and we’re currently trying to work out the best way forward. In the meantime, some of the advice below may be useful to you. Please keep us posted!

It is hard to make progress because you have few legal rights. Legislation is due in 2022 but until then heat networks are unregulated, except for some limited legislation on metering and billing. And even when it comes in, it will not solve everything, especially as both heat providers and landlords often act as if they are simply above the law.  

There are however some levers, and some success stories. We know of two places where residents have succeeded in getting their tariffs cut in half, one reported here, and for the other — watch this space!  Heat networks CAN provide reliable and relatively sustainable heating, at a fair price, and no one should have to put up with the opposite!

  1. The housing ombudsman can and does take action on heat networks and complaint process failures. See their recent report on this here and the article in Inside Housing. In some situations you want the Energy Ombudsman instead, usually if your estate or development is a “registered participant” with the Heat Trust.

  2. BEIS – the government’s department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is promoting and supporting heat networks. The Heat network team there knows a lot about the problems and are actively engaged in trying to get solutions. Do contact them directly at [email protected] and copy in Fuel Poverty Action at [email protected]. They will help if they can, and will also use what information you provide to try to ensure that the legislation, when it finally comes out, is fit for purpose and takes account of the real problems you are having.

  3. The Heat Trust. You can see if your estate belongs to this here (you need to scroll down).  Not only the heat provider, but the particular heat network site needs to be part of this scheme for the Heat Trust Rules to apply. If your estate IS registered, then there are rules on compensation etc which are often ignored but can be enforced.

  4. Naming and shaming. Some social landlords are concerned about their reputation (although many big housing associations now are just big developers who don’t seem to care about residents at all). Twitter campaigns can be effective as can media exposure (for a recent example see here; many other stories that don’t hit the national press, radio or tv, are regularly exposed by local papers. In London, the Standard is also worth trying. FPA gets requests for people who are ready to speak out about their situation (usually named, but sometimes it can be anonymous). If you’d like to be contacted for this, please let us know.

  5. Some private companies, which includes many heat providers, are sensitive to their reputation for commercial reasons, and can also be approached through their shareholders.

  6. Getting hold of any contracts between your landlord, the freeholder, management agents, heat providers, etc can be crucial — but not always easy to do!  If a public body, like the council, is a party to any contracts they can be subject to Freedom of Information requests. If you’re launching a legal case, you can get hold of contracts. You can also look at what your landlord and heat provider says about themselves and commits to on their websites, and at how they promote your estate or development, and see if they are keeping to their image and their commitments. Compare and contrast!

  7. Campaigning is always much more effective collectively. Do you have a tenants and residents association (TRA)? If not, in London you can contact London Tenants Federation for advice on how to form one. If you are in a Housing Association, you can also get help from SHAC. Many estates have both tenants and leaseholders; it is always useful to unite if you can, and at least work together if you can’t. The terms of heat agreements can be different for both, but you will be much stronger together, and each has some rights (eg to information) that the other doesn’t have. If forming a TRA is not possible at the moment, lots of people do very well with facebook groups – this can be a great beginning and may lead to a TRA which will have legal status and carry more weight.

  8. Some MPs and councillors, and the council’s housing committee, will pick up your issues. They all should. They can sometimes get answers where you cannot, and can give your situation prominence. You can write to them directly and then copy them into all your correspondence with your landlord, estate managers, or heat providers.

  9. There may be other local organisations that would be happy to help you put pressure on, where it is required. When lockdown ends, a little demonstration, for instance, could be effective in raising your profile. In the winter, FPA sometimes help organise “warm-ups” where people who can’t heat their own homes go into a public building or some relevant offices, speak out and keep warm there!

  10. Obviously, if the council is your landlord, there are many other levers you can pull. Let us know and we’ll try to help you access them, and put you in touch with others who have been doing this, eg in Southwark.

  11. The law. It is not an easy undertaking, but the Heat Trust website gives some information on rights for people on sites that are not registered with them, here. This gives useful links to Landlord and Tenant law, consumer law, rights to repair, and the Homes fit for Human Habitation Act. You may be dependent on some residents being eligible for legal aid.  And even then, getting anything enforced is an uphill battle, but you know that! If you are considering taking legal action please let us know.

  12. FPA’s website has a lot of information about high tariffs, standing charges, and frequent and/or prolonged outages of heat and hot water. For a good (terrible) example, see our report Not Fit for Purpose; for more examples and policy recommendations please see our various submissions to BEIS, the GLA, the CMA and others, here.

  13. Please consider joining FPA’s network of active district heating residents — just drop us a line and we’ll put you on the mailing list, first off. You are welcome to use this list to keep us and others in a similar situation to yourself informed of your views and developments. Please also copy us into your correspondence with your landlord, heat provider, or estate management (preferably at the end of a thread, not as it goes along), but we will not necessarily be able to respond because…

  14. FPA has NO FUNDING for this work, and in fact, currently, no funding at all. We are devoted volunteers but you can help make sure the work expands and continues by fundraising for us, joining Friends of FPA here, or just donating, here. You can also subscribe (free) to our newsletter and event notifications here.

  15. Resources permitting, we are hoping to call a meeting of our District Heating users’ network in the spring, probably together with some people from BEIS. Do let us know if you’d like to be part of that, and if you’d be ready to help pull it together. 

Update Winter 2020-2021

It’s been a long, hard winter, and we hope you’re all well. Here’s the latest news from FPA:

Rising Prices

On 5 February Ofgem announced their price cap increase, meaning a hefty rise in costs for everyone on default energy tariffs (and a likely rise in fixed tariffs as well, when they come due). Ruth London was on BBC TV News all day, with a substantial slot connecting issues from insulation and cladding to universal credit, pensions and homeschooling – and the need for a total reset because what we have now is killing us:

Check it out on Youtube. We also got a short bit on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and a statement in Energy Live News. We’re glad to have a chance to comment, with the UK’s already holey safety net just a memory, and now with wages so low and in the middle of a pandemic, any increase in energy prices must come with immediate changes in our resources.

At the same time however, we’ve been hard at work as usual on heat networks, on insulation and cladding, on pensioners’ health and standard of living, and have pitched in on issues of heat pumps, regeneration, fracking, and more.

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Heat Network Nightmares

A “heat network” works like central heating for a whole block, estate, or district.

Phoenix Works

We’re working with Peabody tenants in a new build Tower Hamlets development, Phoenix Works. They have been battling sky high tariffs – and have won a reduction by one half! We’ll shortly be making this public, so watch this space. They are still fighting to get a full refund of their overpayment, secure a better tariff for the future, get repairs done promptly, get better heat controls, and above all to make the heat provider accountable to them – which at present, they are not.

Oval Quarter

Oval Quarter, Lambeth, where FPA was heavily involved in bringing heat provider E.ON to account, is again having serious problems with unreliability. We’re back working with them after a gap of several years, following publication of our report on that heat network, Not Fit for Purpose in 2017.

New Festival Quarter & St Clements

We’re also working with two other Tower Hamlets heat networks – at New Festival Quarter and at St Clements, where residents have long been fighting scandalous charges, and other issues including insulation and cladding. We recently organised a meeting for residents from all three developments to meet together with their MP, Apsana Begum. On 4 February Ms Begum committed to taking their issues forward with the council, the GLA, the heat provider and landlords, and in parliament.

Southwark

In Southwark, the battle continues to get heat networks in working order – and in the meantime to win compensation so that when they are not working, residents at least can afford to use space heaters to keep warm. Despite all the efforts of residents, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, and FPA the council’s assurances that “no one will be out of pocket” have not been fulfilled. We’re told there will finally be a policy of automatic compensation of £3 per day, starting in April this year. In the meantime the suffering – and the health costs – are unbearable. See the account in Inside Housing. People in cold homes are taking to twitter to raise concerns of their council home without heating, or one of a relative. One tweets: “OAPs in block Clifton Estate SE15 fed up with communal heating ALWAYS going off EVERY year during COLDEST spells” . Last week another tweeter asked: “if someone dies from a cold home, is this corporate manslaughter?”

Broken promises on national Covid protection

In May 2020, many heat providers signed an Agreement to ensure that heat network customers were protected and supported during the COVID pandemic, to prevent disconnections and cold. The latest monitoring report, by the Heat Trust, finds:

“rising numbers of disconnections from some suppliers during the coldest part of the year, low reconnection rates and declining levels of support given to pre-payment meter customers. Heat Trust is also concerned at failures of some suppliers to keep to the terms of the Agreement and report on their activities.”

Between persistent outages and unbearable prices

Unregulated, unaccountable and uncaring heat providers are likely to have deaths on their accounts this Covid winter, despite widespread and determined efforts. We will never know how many.

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Pendleton, Salford – on the way to court

Residents of Pendleton Together’s high rise towers in Salford are taking their landlord to court over fire risks, maintenance, ineffective heating through NIBE heat pumps, and the freezing temperatures they are enduring now that their cladding has finally been removed. Read FPA member Graeme Langton’s account here. And see here a write up in Manchester Evening News, exposing the terrible cold that Pendleton residents are facing this winter. A group of Pendleton residents plus a reporter from the Salford Star led a breakout group at our December conference Making Green Come True. So far, Pendlton Together seem to disregard all public disclosure of what they are imposing on their residents.

In the last few days, and in the same week that the fire risks at Pendleton were highlighted in the Grenfell inquiry, the fire door through which residents would escape the building has been  left broken and unusable. Residents were not even informed or given any alternative evacuation plan.

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Pembroke Park, Hillingdon – light at the end of the tunnel

There is finally good news from this estate, where FPA has been supporting residents for many years. After years of pressure from residents, and the changing climate post-Grenfell, a new estate management has decided to do something about the fact that the estate was built by Taylor Woodrow in 2010 with its insulation missing. Tenant Tracey Rogers wrote in, in January to tell us:

“after 10 years of being cold, A2 sent 4 people around today to investigate my moans. The outcome is my house has no insulation, my sons room has to have all the walls and ceiling removed, the insulation in the loft had all fallen down (what little was there) I have to be moved out of my property for at least 6 weeks. So yes I have been literally heating the street. My next battle will be compensation.”

Tracey later got back in touch to tell us that her home was a building site, the workmen wear no masks, no alternative accommodation was offered and her daughter and grandchildren, who live with her, have had to move out and find somewhere to live for six weeks in the middle of a pandemic.

There are still many residents in Pembroke Park whose homes are not being insulated at all, and who have no idea when or if they will be.

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Regeneration, embodied carbon, communities and fuel poverty

In January we worked with others at the Radical Housing Network to formulate questions to mayoral and GLA candidates on embodied carbon and other environmental effects of regeneration, also touching on rent control, and the use of empty homes. This was following taking part in their meeting about Lambeth’s on Central Hill estate, where people have been camping to prevent demolition of a close community as part of a regeneration scheme. Early in the morning of 10 February, demolition workers arrived outside Truslove House, sparking a demolition resistance action. Police initially left the occupation alone, but the Council called a Gold Command meeting and at its request the police returned (20+ police with vans) to clear the occupation and cordon off the site. The resistance saw 25 people attending over 6 hours. The campaign will continue.

Many of these housing and heating issues will be raised at  Homes for All’s  “Housing and Health Emergency” summit, Saturday 20th of February. Some of us from FPA will be taking part in the SHAC workshop exploring how housing workers and housing association residents have worked together to get results. Other workshops include one focusing on evictions, disrepair, rents, Grenfell, health and poverty. It will all be on Zoom. Do come along and let us know if there’s something you would like discussed. You can register here.

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Government policy

FPA have been active on a policy level, in January submitting responses to government consultations on improving energy efficiency in the Private Rented Sector, and on their plans for the integration -or rather, the disintegration of the NHS.

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Fracking, plastic, and the building industry

We are in communication with Plastics Rebellion about running a session on Plastics in Construction at their weekly Tuesday evening Zoom.

We hope to talk about the widespread and very large-scale use of plastic as a building material, specifically for insulation and cladding. This led directly to the Grenfell fire, as FPA laid out at the time here. The Grenfell connection could add a pointed message to the plastics campaign.

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Keeping the issues in the public eye

We have consistently raised issues of heating and insulation at meetings and conferences in the housing movement. As Suz Muna of Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) told us, regarding their 28 January housing safety conference:

“we’ll be happy to have you speak at the conference. Your group raises an often hidden and silent health hazard, but one which blights many lives.”

Similarly, On 19 January we attended and contributed to the launch of The London Tenants’ Manifesto on the right to warm, and affordably warm, safe and healthy housing. We tweeted out the Manifesto here.

On 27 January we joined forces with South East London Community Energy (SELCE) to speak at Lewisham Pensioners Forum Annual Health Fayre on ‘How to Take Action on Fuel Poverty’.

We have also put people who want to speak out in touch with the media, and have done extensive briefing of members of the press on fuel poverty (eg. for the Mirror’s current campaign), and on housing issues that leave residents cold (eg. for Inside Housing and the Building Centre). After contact with another journalist last year, we received a copy of her final report on incinerators, which are often a heat source for district heating, but a pollution source for miles around. Josephine Moulds dissects their low carbon credentials and the pricing of these schemes.

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Practical tips on personal energy saving

With Citizens Advice (UK) and the Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) project (H2020), En-Act have produced a series of 11 short videos that show how to save energy at home. While being informative, they are quite short and snappy. Here’s one about fixing draughty doors. Others cover electronics, kitchen, loft, bathroom, floors, laundry, lighting, radiators, windows and chimneys.

Adding insult to injury in Salford: with rents and service charges set to rise, 127 Pendleton Together residents sign up to litigation

Cladding removal image
Cladding removal. Image credit: Local democracy Reporting Service (LDRS)

For several years FPA has been supporting residents of nine tower blocks, run by Pendleton Together on behalf of Salford Council, and several tenants took part in our December conference, Making Green Come True. The blocks all had cladding identical to Grenfell Tower’s, and many other similar dangers. This autumn, after years of tenants enduring life in a tinderbox, the cladding was finally removed – in time to leave them without insulation in a freezing winter, in the middle of a pandemic. To make matters worse, many of the flats are heated by NIBE heat pumps which are simply too expensive to run.

The tenants’ determined battles against impossible living conditions, neglect and intimidation are regularly chronicled in the Salford Star, see for example Salford NIBE fuel poverty scandal hots up in Pendleton (9 July 2015 (sic)) Salford cladding issues won’t be sorted until 2022 as solicitors move in (25 Nov 2020), Freezing salford tenants stuck in Pendleton blocks (12 Jan 2021), and most recently, Salford City Council set to approve increases for freezing tenants (2 February 2021).

Now the tenants have banded together to take their landlords to court, and Rowan Rose solicitors have been gathering the bountiful evidence of illegality.  Graeme Langton, tenant in one of the Pendleton Together tower blocks and an FPA member writes:

Adding Insult to Injury

127 Tenants living in the 9 tower blocks in Salford affected by dangerous cladding, faulty windows, NIBE heating systems that are too expensive to run, fire doors unfit for use, etc., have signed up to litigation action against Salford City Council and their housing managers Pendleton Together. They claim that their properties are unfit for human habitation.

Now Salford City Council, at a meeting next week, are set to approve rent increases for all properties of 1.5% (Consumer Price Index + 1%). Not only have tenants’ debts increased due to spiralling heating costs, but their anxiety and mental health issues have increased, living in fear of their surroundings.

Yet public records show that the Chief Executive for Salford City Council pocketed a total package of £243,707 during the financial year 2018/19 compared to £198,290 the previous year. A whopping rise of over £45,000. Add this to the many Section 106 payments and planning fees waived by the council, together with no affordable housing provision and the £25,000 a week spent on Fire Marshalls, these rent and service charge increases only add insult to injury.

Hot off the press! #MakingGreenComeTrue Conference Pack

We are very excited to share our Making Green Come True conference pack! Find our final agenda, breakout room information, speaker and contributor bios, ‘virtual stalls’ with resources from conference attendees, and more! There are new timings and exciting developments within — check it out!

Are you intrigued? Register here!

We recommend downloading the full PDF containing the conference pack here or you can preview it below:

Conference Pack Schedule Only

Fuel Poverty Action’s Alexa Waud writes about insulation, retrofit and #MakingGreenComeTrue for the Ecologist

The following essay was first published by the Ecologist under a Creative Commons 4.0 licence. FPA’s Alexa Waud writes about insulation, retrofit, #MakingGreenComeTrue, and strengthening our demands

Making Green Come True Social Media Image

Making green come true: What’s keeping the green promise of housing retrofit from becoming a reality?

When I was preparing to move to the UK from Canada in 2017 I was repeatedly warned of the cold. Coming from a country where wind chill factors pull the winter temperature down to –30 ºC, these words of caution came as a surprise. “The dampness gets to your bones,” my friends and colleagues told me, “and worst of all, you can’t escape it. Homes in the UK have no insulation.” Then, just in advance of my move, Grenfell tower caught fire, its flames fuelled by toxic cladding. These parallel warnings – of decaying buildings and decaying accountability – made clear: many UK homes weren’t insulated, and when they were, it could be deadly.

In the last three years, the words insulation, cladding and energy efficiency retrofit have received increasing air-time. Echoing in Kensington’s community halls and broadcast as part of Green New Deal programming, they’ve found their way onto the agenda of building safety meetings and into the advice offerings of energy efficiency caseworkers. In these different settings, the words insulation, cladding and retrofit conjure up vastly different images. In the eyes of some, they are causing burning buildings and in the eyes of others preventing a burning planet. Some people see their potential in shaving a few pounds off unpayable energy bills. For others, the potential impact is less desirable: damaged health by toxic materials. These visions need not be at odds – homes that are safe for people and the planet are possible – and yet, these conversations are remarkably disconnected.

Dissonant messages

The grassroots campaign group Fuel Poverty Action, of which I am a part, has a unique perspective on these issues. Emerging from Climate Camp in 2011, our approach to climate organising has always addressed the challenges of affordability and accountability to residents head on.

At times, this is challenging. In late 2018, I remember listening to a Grenfell survivor’s impassioned speech to his community. “They are going to try to put insulation in your flats,” he said to the audience, “never let them!” At the same time, Fuel Poverty Action was working with tower block residents across the UK to get safe insulation on their buildings in an effort to protect against fuel poverty and deaths from cold.

Six months later we were feeding into Green New Deal drafts, calling for widespread retrofit to tackle climate change on a scale that matched the problem. Meanwhile, victims of bad retrofits were telling us how poor ventilation, damp, and mould ruined their health. And yet, others were telling us of a child at death’s door in a freezing new-build flat where the landlords had simply omitted insulation. Private renters also shared their fear of insulation. They wanted its warmth, cost saving and environmental benefits, but were afraid their already too high rents would rise further.

One such renter wrote to us,

“The man who came today to check the electrics told me I should have insulation and my landlord should do it for me, but I don’t know… My rent might go up and I can’t afford it. Particularly as a women pensioner. Because of all the discrimination we didn’t earn enough and we could never afford a mortgage. I know when I burn gas I’m burning fossil fuels and I’m very concerned about that. But I couldn’t use electricity. I wouldn’t be able to pay for it.”
Private renter, Kensington and Chelsea

It’s hard work to forge a path forward that takes account of these complex, and often conflicting, concerns. It means challenging the visions of the mainstream and even the leftist climate movements by grounding energy efficiency in people’s lives. It means prioritising existing, everyday struggles and building-up climate solutions from there. It means engaging in the unfolding debate seriously, and creating space for others to engage as well.

The Making Green Come True conference

To this end, Fuel Poverty Action is hosting a conference with the Trade Union Congress LESE pensioners network on December 5th, called ‘Making Green Come True’.

The event will bring together people who are fighting for insulation and people who are fighting against it. We’ll hear from those who know action on climate change is already coming too late, and those who know proper training takes time. Victims of bad retrofits will meet with trade unionists who have plans to fill the performance gap by fighting for high quality jobs in which high quality work can be completed.

Social housing tenants will discuss real questions with which they’ve been grappling. For example, one person registered for the conference asks,

“What do you do when you ask your social landlord to insulate and upgrade the environmental sustainability of your home – reducing your bills, but providing more warmth and using less fossil fuels – and they send an advisor who gives you a thermal blanket, gloves and a new gas boiler? So far, they do not appear to be interested in the urgent and imperative need to reduce carbon emissions from existing homes.”
Social housing tenant, Hackney

The conference slogan reads, ‘It isn’t green if it doesn’t work. It isn’t true if it isn’t affordable’. We will weave these lessons into the fabric of existing retrofit campaigns to broaden their mobilisation and strengthen their demands.

Global justice

We’ve seen, through tragic consequences, how cost cutting costs lives. At the same time we must ask: where are the lives we are counting? The fight for energy justice is necessarily global. Petrochemical extraction, a precursor to plastic insulation, is an example of global injustice on multiple levels. What energy are we saving when the materials we use demand the continued extraction of fossil fuels? The cost is clear: oppression of people and destruction of environments around the world lock us further into climate change with unequal, deadly impacts.

Equally, if our homes continue to heat the streets, they’ll require more energy. Even if that energy comes from renewable sources, we should be careful about the amount we are demanding. Renewable energy infrastructure requires the mining of the rare earth metals that also wreaks havoc across the globe.

However, the choice between energy efficiency and global justice is a false one. The options are not either unabated climate change or action through profit driven supply chains. Instead, we can align our movements to find a different solution.

Care-full homes

One example of a different solution can be found in broadening our understanding of green jobs. By bringing care workers – paid and unpaid – into the conversation, we can ensure retrofit work doesn’t deepen the traditional view that green jobs are exclusively industrial. When conversations about retrofit give weight to caring for our homes and the people in them, decisions begin to reflect the priorities of those, especially women, for whom the home is both a sanctuary and a workplace.

Upon receiving our invitation to the conference, a member of the Global Women’s Strike campaign commented on the description of bad retrofit jobs. “They lack care,” she said simply. With care, we can make homes fit for those of us who are not kings, and who may be pensioners, or disabled, or may be young children. With care we can future proof with low sills, wide doorways, manageable heating controls, and good air quality.

Strengthening our demands

With my Fuel Poverty Action hat set aside, I often fall into the climate campaigner pattern of thought. With the urgency of the climate crisis and the draftiness of UK homes front of mind, I tend to see mass retrofit as a no-brainer solution. This conference will show that it does, in fact, require many brains, or rather a whole community of people thinking and grappling with retrofit’s challenging questions. Challenging questions about health, jobs, and ripple effects from the point of extraction all the way up to the atmosphere. We need to fight for both liveable homes and for a liveable planet, and attention to detail and the domestic will only strengthen our demands and our power.


Alexa Waud is an organiser and researcher based in Edinburgh. She is a director of Fuel Poverty Action, and works on urban climate justice issues with a focus on housing and democracy.

WHAT: Making Green Come True Conference

WHEN: Saturday, 5 December, 1 – 4:30 pm

REGISTER: www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/mgct

Making Green Come True Conference

Making Green Come True Poster

Please register here as soon as possible! Only registered participants will receive the Zoom link.

Information in the conference pack is listed below, but if you prefer a PDF, you can find one here.

Who?

Are you wondering who you’ll meet at the conference? Check-out our See Who You’ll Meet pack! Here you’ll find photos and bios of our 18 speakers and breakout room leaders as well as a list of key organisations.

This event is primarily for residents, organisers and workers. Politicians and policymakers are warmly invited to listen and take part.

We will have a variety of people in the room, including: architects, energy efficiency experts, people who’ve experienced retrofit work, Tenants and Residents Associations, pensioners, housing and climate organisers, building safety experts, researchers, and trade unionists.

Programme

Schedule for making green come true

Panelists: Who will you hear from?

Stuart Hodkinson is a campaigning academic based at the University of Leeds whose research focuses on the devastating human costs from the privatisation and financialisation of housing. His most recent book is called Safe as Houses: Private Greed, Political Negligence, and Housing Policy After Grenfell (2019, Manchester University Press). He is currently working with residents groups to hold the UK government to account for its post-Grenfell regulatory response.

Ruth London is a founding member of Fuel Poverty Action in 2011, she now co-ordinates FPA’s work. A grandmother, she has been active for five decades organising against poverty, war, discrimination and climate change, in organisations including Women Against Rape, the Global Women’s Strike, Climate Camp, Reclaim the Power, and Occupy London.

Tony O’Brien is a retired carpenter-joiner, and long-time union organiser who has been active in the TUC since 1963. Tony helped spearhead the great national building workers’ strike in Mile End in 1972, he was founding secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign in 1988, and he recently published a book on housing and building direct labour organisations.

Tracey Rogers is a social housing tenant living on the Pembroke Park development in Ruislip. Tracey and her family, like many residents at Pembroke Park, have suffered from very poor insulation in their properties and incorrectly installed piping for the sub standard DH System which has regular outages during the winter.

Pauline Saunders is a founder member of CIVALLI. In 2019, Pauline was shortlisted for Inside Housing’s Women in Housing Awards for Woman of the Year. She works tirelessly to staff a helpline for those struggling to gain redress following failed or inappropriately installed cavity wall insulation.

Check out our See Who You’ll Meet pack to learn more about breakout room leaders and other contributors.

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