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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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!

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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

Safe Cladding & Insulation Now Update November 2020

Apologies for the length of this update but there is a lot happening.  For things you can take part in or take action on please see Building Safety? , Making Green Come True , Cladding finally off — but winter is coming! , and, at the end, Dictating to the Estate”.

* * * * * 

Building Safety?

We want first to draw your attention to an important new initiative by residents groups and campaigners, including Grenfell United, the London Tenants Federation, UK Cladding Action Group and Tower Blocks UK, with the support of the University of Leeds, aiming to influence the government’s proposed reforms to high-rise building and fire safety regulation in the wake of the Grenfell disaster..  The Building Safety Bill is currently in draft form and has just been through a pre-legislative inquiry held by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, while the Fire Safety Bill will soon reach the Report Stage in the House of Lords. Related to both are proposed fire safety reforms that have recently been consulted on. There are some encouraging aspects of this reform package, not least the more stringent regulatory enforcement system for high-rise residential buildings under a new Building Safety Regulator with tougher penalties for non-compliance. However, there are many flaws with the Building Safety Bill and the fire safety reforms being laid before parliament:

  1. The proposed scope of the Building Safety Bill excludes buildings under 18 metres as well as care homes, prisons, detention centres, hospitals, hospices, hotels, hostels, and guest houses despite growing evidence of the fire and structural dangers of such buildings.
  1. Original proposals for a very strong enforcement system that would prevent new buildings from being occupied unless compliant and allow citizens the right to bring private legal claims for a breach of building regulations have been inexplicably dropped.
  1. The Draft Building Safety Bill is very vague on how existing buildings will be integrated into the new system
  1. Despite promising to put residents at the heart of the new system, there are hardly any new rights for residents but a whole load of responsibilities including the requirement that leaseholders will be financially liable for an uncapped Building Safety Charge to pay for safety measures
  2. The rights of residents to evacuate in the event of a fire are still being ignored: the government is actively undermining the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations to ensure that high-rise buildings are fitted with fire detection and evacuation systems, and that all landlords prepare Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) to help vulnerable and disabled people and anyone else whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.

While consultations have closed (see FPA’s submission on the FSO, based on a campaign template, here) it is still possible to influence the Building Safety Bill and the fire safety reforms — and every closed loophole could save lives. The residents’ initiative will shortly be preparing model letters for people to write to their local MP and councillors to encourage them to put pressure on Ministers and relevant parliamentarians. SCIN will update supporters in due course.

If you are interested in getting involved, please get in touch with Phil Murphy – [email protected]

Making Green Come True — 5 December 2020

We warmly invite you to our half-day online conference, titled Making Green Come True where the proposals now before Parliament will be on the agenda, along with other issues related to both cladding and insulation.  The conference will give residents an opportunity to highlight the gap between green promises and reality, share experience, build alliances, and add to pressure for accountability in housing.  Beyond the critical issue of flammability it is crucial to make sure that both cladding and insulation are non-toxic, and that they do their job — in many cases inappropriate retrofits have actually left homes colder and damper than before.  Plus, the materials they use may be carbon-intensive to extract, produce, and transport, cutting into carbon saving.

There will be a second Making Green Come True event in the new year, focusing on heating.  In both sessions  will be a mixture of people with direct personal experience and people like architects and renovation specialists who have other kinds of expertise. Campaigners on housing, safety, pensioners’ issues, energy and the climate are welcome, as are trade unionists.

Please register via the link on our website.

Cladding finally off — but winter is coming!

Meanwhile, the fight goes on to get flammable cladding of all sorts off of buildings of all heights.  The residents of nine Pendleton Together tower blocks in Salford, have finally had ACM cladding removed from blocks which are a mirror image of Grenfell Tower, and have all the same fire risks too.  After three years of sleepless nights it is a huge relief.  But residents have had no information on when the cladding will be replaced.  And after all this time, the cladding has been removed as we go into winter — and a winter of Covid-19.

Here, as elsewhere, FPA have been raising the issue of how people can keep warm without cladding or insulation.  The landlord’s response has been an offer of £25 per month — or 83p per day — for additional heating costs.  Experience of other blocks shows that when insulation comes off many people cannot keep warm even if they keep the heating on 24/7 — and who can afford to do that?

In the Pendleton Together flats,  there are additional problems with many people’s heating systems — they have NIBE heat pumps which have not functioned properly for years. (we are trying again now to get action on this).  Some people say they just never put their heating on.  But what will that be like, when the building is open to the elements?  Flats on high floors are badly exposed to wind.  And other such tower blocks have found that, after cladding removal, there is not only condensation but rain penetration as well.

Please tweet in support of Pendleton residents: “@SalfordCouncil and @salford_mayor,  how long are the Pendleton high rise blocks going to be without insulation? It’s getting really cold.”  See the Salford Star article!

If you know of other blocks where people have been offered — or NOT offered — compensation for extra heating costs, please get in touch — comparing what is happening in different estates and areas can be crucial to improving what people get.

Tens of thousands still in danger

The government’s Building Safety Programme Monthly Data Release looks only at high rise buildings over 18 metres (6 storeys) high, with Grenfell-style ACM cladding.  The records for 30 September 2020 show 456 such buildings identified as unlikely to meet Building Regulations.: The buildings are

  • 155 social sector residential,
  • 207 Private sector residential,
  • 54 Student accommodation blocks
  • 30 Hotels  and
  • 10 Publicly owned buildings.

The startling thing is that these figures are virtually identical with the statistics for September 2019 (An exception is where, in the private sector, more buildings have been identified as unsafe.)  Not only has there been no progress during the pandemic — there was hardly any before that, either.  In a hard-hitting report The parliamentary Communities and Local Government Select Committee suggest “Any residential building where works have not commenced by December 2020 should be subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order”. 

All of these figures are dwarfed by the huge numbers of homes which still have other combustible materials on their external walls, and homes which are in buildings of under 18 metres high.  The same parliamentary Committee says says many of these buildings also have further issues like inadequate fire breaks (34%), and combustible or missing insulation (30%).

Written evidence submitted by the National Fire Chiefs Council [CPR 017], May 2020.notes that: 

“Several of the worst recent fires in residential blocks have taken place in buildings under 18 metres, such as at the Cube student residence in Bolton. There are estimated to be 100,000 buildings between 11 and 18 meters high.”  For a  personal account of one such fire see here.

On 11 March 2020 the Chancellor announced in the Budget a £1 billion Building Safety Fund  for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems in buildings over 18M.. Building owners and managers are struggling to apply for the Building Safety Fund before its tight December deadline, sometimes impeded by the developers.  In New Festival Quarter, Tower Hamlets, for instance, the developer Bellway undertook their own survey and (according to the witness report) found missing cavity barriers, combustible insulation and other issues, as well as the ACM cladding now being removed.  But Bellway are currently refusing to share their findings with residents – including information important for the funding application

Importantly, a study has highlighted how “Three major house builders have made combined profits of £5.2bn since the Grenfell Tower fire despite leaseholders in properties they developed facing life-changing bills for fire safety repairs”

Residents’ mental health is still in pieces from living in flammable buildings, and many are also paying a high price financially, e.g. for 24-hour fire watch services.  The UK Cladding Action Group, with backing from Inside Housing and from Grenfell United, have been working hard to highlight the cost to leaseholders.  .

Sadly, the problem is far from solved for social housing tenants, either, and the Parliamentary Committee raised doubts over whether their landlords would have access to the new the new Building Safety Fund.  Graeme Langton, a social housing tenant in Salford says,

“I find myself being called on day in and day out to give emotional support to members of my community currently at their wits end. We have seen a vast increase in mental health self referrals – some have been admitted several times during lockdown.

Of course Covid 19 has affected everyone across the country… but here in inner-city Salford many feel that they are not just suffering but are being ignored and left in limbo due to the fiasco led by Salford City Council / Together Housing / and Pendleton Together. Only now after several years of fighting to get the Grenfell style cladding off, is it being removed. But no works plan to replace the cladding and no confirmation as to the quality or standard of what this new material might be.”

A slew of heavyweight organisations have thrown their weight behind the fight, with the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign relaunched in September 2020.  But the long and the short of it is that the government has put £1.6bn into removal work but has said this will be the limit of the funding it provides. The full cost of remediating affected buildings around England is estimated at £15bn.  The new  legislation in the pipeline now is primarily targeted at new builds, not existing buildings. Much will depend on the campaign we flagged up at the start of this Update.

No Justice in Sight

While the fight goes on to prevent more loss of life, Grenfell Tower survivors and their community are battling for justice for those whose lives were ended or turned upside down on 14 June 2017.  In the long-delayed public inquiry they have repeatedly been knocked back by being excluded from the room, by the choice of panellists — and months of an empty chair, and by the decision that oral evidence cannot be used in the prosecution of any individual. The fear of seeing those responsible walk away free is very real.

The evidence coming out of the inquiry is damning and heartbreaking. Among much else, it has heard

(Yet we are a very long way from seeing anyone in prison for these decisions.  And meanwhile, the same practices continue all over the country, including stone-walling and demonising residents who dare to complain.

“Dictating to the Estate”

Very much to the point, then, we’re glad to pass on this message from the team now working on a dynamic expose of what really happened at Grenfell:

“Dictating to the Estate” is a documentary play about events leading up to the Grenfell Tower fire. It uses blog posts, emails and council records to tell the story of the refurbishment of the tower and residents’ attempts to hold the council to account. At the same time, it places these events in the wider context of austerity, social cleansing and deregulation.

Following on from the successful public readings we did last year, the new production will have a new cast and an extensively rewritten script, incorporating information that is currently coming out of the Inquiry. Although it has been delayed a number of times by the pandemic, it will now be coming on stage in November 2021 at the Maxilla Social Club in North Kensington, just a few minutes’ walk from Grenfell Tower. We will also be recording and releasing a free digital performance that people can watch online. 

The production is working in partnership with Fuel Poverty Action’s Safe Cladding Now campaign, and will include public talks on issues of fire safety in its satellite events. 

We currently have a crowdfunding campaign underway to raise the remaining £13,000 we need to meet our budget. We understand these are particularly difficult times, but any contributions would be greatly appreciated. You can donate to the campaign here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dictating-to-the-estate/x/10245226#/

If you can’t contribute financially, you can still support us by following the production on social media, sharing our posts, and spreading the word. Our handles are:

Twitter: @dtteproduction

Facebook: @grenfelldocumentary 

Left out in the cold – no protection for hundreds of thousands if their heating fails this winter

FPA have been pressing for months behind the scenes to get protection for people on District Heating networks, in case their heat and hot water fail during the pandemic this winter.  We’ve now written to the energy minister about this — see the letter and our press release below, and coverage in Utility Week.  We understand the government is urging heat suppliers to act on this.  Now this protection should be written into a Heat industry agreement.  

Press Release 3 November 2020

Fuel Poverty Action has written to the energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng, asking him to intervene to rescue people in danger of cold this winter (see here to read the letter).  Most people in “District Heating” systems, increasingly common in UK housing developments (1), are left out of national agreements covering gas and electricity customers during Covid-19. They have no protection if they cannot afford to heat their homes in the pandemic.  They will also be unprotected if their communal heating system fails, which can be frequent for some poorer performing networks.

The government has shown a strong commitment to boosting district heating over the coming decade,  and we are asking the minister to step in, before the weather turns worse, to ensure that consumers on such  heat networks have the same levels of protection as households on conventional gas and power supply.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action said,

“This winter, the dangers are worse than ever.  Many people are working at home, many have lost their income.  Even in a normal year, it can be too expensive  to plug in an electric heater or to use an immersion heater for hot water.  The cost of running electric heaters is so high that many people cannot put them on for even an hour.  Due to the pandemic they cannot shower in a local gym, spend an afternoon in a library keeping warm, or take the children to anywhere warm.  Whatever their age, or their state of health or illness, they will be trapped in a freezing home without any source of warmth, and unable even to wash their hands in warm water. The risks are obvious, and include a risk to life.”

Pat Edmonds, from Wydham and Combre Tenants and Residents Association in Southwark had this question for the council in March 2020:

“One question I get asked almost daily from tenants/residents of Wyndham & Comber Estate is, “is enough work being done to safeguard the district heating?“  It failed last weekend.  Everyone was freezing.  Lots of people have young children who they now cannot take out to their grandparents for warmth and most of whom cannot afford the cost of putting on electric fires.  Many seniors are having to augment their electricity bills by paying extra money.”

Gas and electricity customers are governed by a series of protections, which currently include measures — usually loans — to prevent people being cut off in the pandemic (2).   They are also entitled to compensation for any outage over 24 hours, and vulnerable gas customers must be given an alternative means of cooking and heating.  But except for a small minority of schemes which are covered by the Heat Trust or the Heat Networks Industry Council (3), there is no equivalent for most people on heat networks.

David Watson of Heat Trust, comments, 

“As the independent consumer champion for those living and working on heat networks, we believe that when things go wrong customers have a right to expect that they are put right as soon as possible and to receive compensation for any loss.  Those heat network suppliers who have signed up to our Scheme are committing to doing just that on the sites registered with us.  Whilst this is welcome, our Scheme covers just 10% of the market today.  That means that the majority of customers lack even this basic support.  As we head into a difficult winter it is vital that customers receive the protection they deserve.  All heat network suppliers have the opportunity to fix this today by signing up to our standards, something I urge them all to do.”

FPA’s appeal to the minister comes after a concerted attempt to get the Heat Network industry to take action itself.

After years of lobbying, legislation of the “heat” industry is expected by 2022. It will bring in customer protection similar to what Ofgem offers users of gas and electricity, including guaranteed service payments to cover outages.  Fuel Poverty Action maintain that until this protection comes in, the heat industry should start acting now on what legislation will soon impose, and ensure that no one is out of pocket or unable to afford warmth and hot water due to heat network failures.  They say a winter of pandemic is no time for profit making businesses to be taking advantage of the current lack of regulation, at vulnerable customers’ expense.

Many failing heat networks can be dramatically improved by relatively inexpensive adjustments and upgrades.  Others require major work, but even this would be many times less costly than repeated repairs to constant breakdowns, year after year after year.

Ruth London of FPA concludes:

“The government has chosen to commit to heat networks infrastructure as a “no regrets” way forward to decarbonising heat. It should now commit to insisting that people are made safe from system failures.  And its “green recovery package” should include loans, where needed, to bring existing heat networks up to a standard which does not imperil the health of the people who use it.  

We are asking the government  to include such provision in funding for a green recovery from Covid-19.   In the meantime, both the government and the heat industry must answer the question: what consequences of their inaction are acceptable?  What price must customers pay for an unregulated industry in a pandemic year?

“We hope to hear from the minister soon.”

Notes:

(1) A growing number of UK residents, including many social housing tenants and leaseholders in high-rise and low-rise blocks, get their warmth and hot water from a heat network, often called “District Heating”.  Heat is produced centrally and distributed to flats, buildings, or a whole district in the form of hot water in pipes.  In a building served by a heat network, residents cannot switch supplier.  They have no control over their prices, or the maintenance of their systems.  In some cases, the network works well, saving on bills, and on carbon emissions.  In some it is disastrously unreliable, and residents face frequent “outages” with no heat or hot water.  The experience of many in touch with FPA is backed up by research, eg Citizens Advice study.  A survey by BEIS in 2019 found that “Service interruptions are relatively common in the HN sector. More than a third of heat network consumers reported experiencing an interruption/ loss of heating in the last 12 months (HN: 37%, non-HN: 24%) and were also more likely to have experienced multiple interruptions in the last 12 months (HN: 21%, non-HN: 11%).”

(2) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-energy-industry-to-support-vulnerable-people-through-covid-19

(3) https://www.theade.co.uk/news/press-releases/putting-customersat-the-heart-of-our-pandemic-response-says-heat-networks-i

BEIS Heat Networks team can be contacted at [email protected]

To speak to Pat Edmonds or other representatives of estates and developments suffering multiple outages please contact FPA.

Fuel Poverty Action works with people facing unaffordable energy bills, or dealing with failing heating systems or uncaring landlords.  Our goal is affordable, sustainable energy for all.

Read all about it! FPA Annual Report for 2020

For millions of people finding money for fuel bills is more of a crisis than ever, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. More energy is needed when people are stuck at home, while many incomes are reaching rock bottom and debts are mounting up. People are rationing not only heat and electricity but food. Many have found that their grocery bills have increased. One in five families with children have been going hungry in this wealthy country — and in poorer parts of the world, famines are underway. Heat, power, and food are essentials for health — as is good housing. Not accidentally, the poorest communities, and particularly people of colour, are facing the highest death toll, along with older people, especially in the undervalued, under-resourced, underbelly of care, UK “care homes”.

This is the horror now being confronted by a groundswell of grassroots people andnetworks, organising to support our own families and communities and to demandfrom the government, from politicians, and from businesses, a total reversal ofpriorities. Health must come first, and an economy that prioritises the market hasbeen shown not to deliver on health. Brutal realities that have long been clear to millions who are fighting over fuel bills, housing, heating, food and inadequateincomes, are now public for the world to see. So is the money that can clearly befound when wanted, for instance for furlough and huge sums to keep businesses afloat. What seemed impossible has proved to be both do-able and essential.

At this moment of clarity, and with so many people and organisations coming together, we have a chance to move away from the deadly energy markets andhousing provision that kill 10,000 people a year in cold homes and leave many others with no home at all. And at the same time, as the clock nears midnight, we may havea chance to avert the worst of a climate apocalypse.

Read the full report below, or download the PDF here.

Fuel Poverty Action Annual Report 2020

No one should be cut off for lack of money to top up a meter!

After gas and electricity were privatised around 30 years ago, Ofgem was set up as a regulator to make sure that the private companies remained accountable to the public, to some degree.  Ofgem’s “standard licence conditions” impose quite a lot of obligations on these companies, and monitor customer service. They also have the power to cap prices, and have done so.

But the fact remains that many people just cannot afford their bills, and when you cannot pay you normally get put on a Prepayment Meter. Then you have to keep the meter topped up — it cuts off your power or your gas as soon as credit  runs out. And ofen you can’t get it back on until you can pay off “standing charges” that accumulate even when you’re using no heat or power. This plays havoc with people’s health, prospects, and relationships, and contributes to this country’s 10,000 deaths a year due to cold homes.

Recently, Ofgem has been consulting about what protections should be in place to prevent that happening. Ofgem refers to “self-disconnection” as if we were cutting ourselves off by choice.  But while the name is problematic, there are proposals for some good new license conditions.

Fuel Poverty Action has now responded to this consultation.  We hope this response will help establish some basic principles to prevent people going without the energy we need.  It will be published on Ofgem’s website, and in the meantime it can be found with our other consultation responses, here. Ofgem’s recommendations will be published later this year, but they will not be the last ones.  As the crisis of fuel poverty grows, stronger action will be needed.

Among other things, we press for suppliers to take it into account when people have exceptional needs for electric power, for instance because of district heating or heat pumps that do not perform as promised, or because the cladding and insulation have been removed from their tower blocks.

The Supply Licence Conditions & Guaranteed Standards of Performance run into hundreds of pages. Suppliers are fined sums large and small for serious and trivial breaches, of vast numbers of rules. Ofgem has powers to prohibit the ultimate sanction that suppliers wield to get bills paid: disconnection and so-called ‘self-disconnection’,  We think that is urgent for this coming winter and the hard times ahead.

Have a look here to see what we recommend.

Join us for the 2020 AGM of Fuel Poverty Action

Join us for the 2020 AGM of Fuel Poverty Action

Annual General Meeting – 6.45 for 7pm Thursday 10 September 2020

 RSVP – It is essential to let us know you’re coming, as we will then send you the link and details for zoom ([email protected]).

Following AGM business* (6.45) and a report of the year’s activities, this AGM will focus on plans for the coming winter and the hard times ahead 

bearing in mind how the pandemic, climate change, and increasing poverty and austerity are affecting first and hardest those who already have least: those of us who are Black or Minority Ethnic, low waged, unwaged, pensioners, disabled, children and young people, on benefits, migrants, or in poor housing.

We are delighted to provide a platform for three guest speakers:

Mónica Guiteras from APE, the Alliance against Energy Poverty, Catalonia  which has been exceptionally successful in holding energy suppliers to account will speak about how they have done it, using the combined power of people who can’t pay their bills, joining with climate and housing activists.

Graeme Langton, campaigning resident from a tower block in Salford which is just now having Grenfell-style cladding removed.  Residents are facing a winter without insulation and with heat pumps that they can’t afford to use.

Murat Kaya, Southwark leaseholder who recently won his case against the council which wanted him to pay for a new district heating boiler that never worked.

Discussion to include ‘How can we…?’:

  • Accelerate the home retrofits needed to keep us warm (and cool) enough, keep bills down, and slow the rush towards a transformed climate
  • Access the energy we need to stay healthy
  • Ensure that insulation and heating systems, in both new and old homes, are non-flammable, non-toxic, well-designed/installed/maintained, good for the climate, and suitable for our homes and for us as residents
  • Protect residents who are left without insulation following removal of cladding, or whose heating systems keep breaking down
  • Spread the word about what we’re entitled to and how to access help and insist on rights
  • Stop gas and electricity disconnections, district heating outages, and hungry prepayment meters. No more hungry children

At 8 pm, we invite you to get together with others who share your heating, housing, and affordability issues in smaller groups.  We will then come back together and finish by 8.30.

Fuel Poverty Action welcomes new members, and people who want to work with us in other ways.  Come along and raise your own issues, find out what’s happening, and consider how you might be part of it.  

If you want help in getting to grips with zoom, please let us know well in advance and we will help you.

* The AGM business section, for FPA’s voting members, will include a financial report and election of Directors. Members may appoint a proxy under section 324 of the Companies Act 2006 and article 22.

“What are we paying for?” Tribunal backs leaseholder on District Heating

In a pathbreaking decision, the First Tier Tribunal has told Southwark Council to refund money paid for District Heating which does not work. The Tribunal, which determines leasehold disputes, ruled that Mr Murat Kaya owed only one quarter of what had been demanded of him. Three quarters of what he had paid must be returned. For District Heating users, such victories are rare.

Mr Kaya, a leaseholder in Eugene Cotter House, sought a refund on nearly £4,000 demanded from him — and from every leaseholder in this council block. Mr Kaya told the Tribunal that before a communal boiler was replaced in 2016, the system worked fine.  Since then, there have been constant stoppages of both heat and hot water — eg 13 stoppages between mid November 2019 and 30 January 2020 — and equally constant visits from engineers. For all of this ineffective maintenance work, leaseholders were expected to pay — as well as financing the new boiler itself.

Both leaseholders and tenants have long questioned why they are having to live with such an intermittent service, which plays havoc with their families’ lives and health.  Repeated complaints and a petition have failed to bring any improvement.  

Celebrating his victory, Mr  Kaya says, 

the applicants are me and my next door neighbour only, but now I’m sure lots of other people will follow.  We should not be expected to pay for this 2016 replacement, or for maintenance that fails to maintain an acceptable level of service.”  

Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO) and Fuel Poverty Action (FPA), who both supported Mr Kaya, have been working to ensure that council tenants are able to keep warm despite the endemic problems with Southwark’s ageing and ailing heat networks.

Ruth London of Fuel Poverty action notes, “Mr Kaya’s achievement is all the more important because such judgments are rare.  Not many have the courage, tenacity and resources to take on their landlords and suppliers.  District Heating can be good, for costs and carbon emissions, but customers cannot switch, and this rapidly expanding industry is still unregulated.  Users are at the mercy of suppliers when prices — and capital levies — are outrageously high, or when the heat and hot water constantly break down, or both.  With landlords and suppliers much better equipped and funded to pursue legal cases, it is hard for residents to get justice even when their case is very strong.”  

Mr Kaya had kept careful documentation, and secured the support of legal counsel: Josef Cannon of Cornerstone Barristers, acting pro bono.  Southwark Council, in contrast, was singularly unprepared, and unable to back up their arguments, as noted in the Tribunal’s unequivocal judgment (see paras 59-69). The Local Authority argued that they had fulfilled their obligations — since they always sent a repairman when the system broke down yet again. This logic was roundly rejected.

Mr Cannon said, “The key to this result was the meticulous record-keeping that Mr Kaya maintained over a long period. It allowed us to prove to the tribunal, in a way that could not be gainsaid, quite how intermittent and unsatisfactory the service had been. Residents who experience problems with district heating systems should attempt to keep diaries of the outages and, if they are even half as careful as Mr Kaya, they will be well-placed to prove their case.”

After a hearing held on 27 February, there was a long wait for the judgment, and then for the deadline to expire for a possible appeal.  Mr Kaya is now secure in his stunning, and unusual, win, which will have wide implications for district heating users elsewhere.

Ms London adds, “This hearing is a critical moment in a series of similar battles over District Heating that have been taking place around Southwark and nationally.  It must not be residents who pay for others’ failures.  Nor should they have to go as far as Tribunal to get simple justice or a heating system that works.

Mr Murat is available to speak to the media, as are other affected residents.

Cornerstone Barristers are at 020 7242 4986.