Still in Danger One Year On

Before the government conceded the principle by promising to “fully fund” the replacement of Grenfell-style cladding, FPA had collected over 60 signatures from MPs, community organisers, campaigners, trade unions, and resident associations on an open letter that demanded that the government release the money to make people safe and warm. Though the victory in £400 million cannot be understated, the money and promises don’t nearly go far enough in ensuring peoples’ homes are made safe from fire, nor does it promise vital guarantees to keep people warm over the winter when remediation works are underway and cladding and insulation is off. FPA spoke to many people left out in the cold and suffering in freezing homes last winter, whilst their insulation was off. Cold, like fire, kills.
FPA have redrafted their letter and sent it out to be signed. The new letter presses on a set of urgent demands that the government needs to meet and will be delivered to the Secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government this October.
Please read and share.
Solidarity.
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Still Not Safe — news from a Salford tower block

On the anniversary of Grenfell, I have been asked to write this blog post describing what its like living in a high-rise building with dangerous cladding on it like Grenfell had.  My name is Elizabeth and I live in a 22 story high rise housing association block in Salford, managed by Pendleton Together and owned by Salford council.

The block has flammable cladding. And a year on from the tragedy it still has the cladding on it except for the first three floors. And it’s been terrible living here since the tragic events for several reasons. Since the Grenfell fire me and several residents haven’t been able to sleep well and have been too scared to sleep, especially in the first few weeks. We were first promised that if anyone wanted to move they should just go to the Housing Association and they would look at our cases fairly. But unfortunately many residents, even the ones with kids on high floors and people with health problems and people with doctors letters recommending they are moved, have been denied a move. This has upset residents a lot since many kids and people with health problems died in Grenfell .

Elizabeth’s tower block in Salford – covered in flammable cladding

We have been told that removing the cladding is going to take two years and that they’re looking at installing sprinklers in the all the high rise blocks. A month after the Grenfell  fire the mayor  of Salford, Paul Dennett , said he would remove the cladding and that he wouldn’t wait for the report from the national and local government on testing whether the cladding that’s on our blocks is flammable like Grenfell.  And that he would borrow £25 million pounds to get the cladding off and keep residents safe.  Unfortunately, Pendleton Together only removed the first three rows, and a year later my block and many other blocks managed by Pendleton Together still have the major part of the cladding still on. Cladding only came off for the camera news crews and work stopped when the camera and TV news crews stopped filming.

There was a meeting I attended about a month after the Grenfell tragedy, which was held in Salford youth theatre, where the deputy mayor and other various speakers came to talk about Grenfell. When the meeting got heated the deputy mayor of Salford said we should be thankful he came, as he didn’t have to come to the meeting to let local residents know what the Salford Council was going to do about our unsafe home. He stated that the Salford council only had £25 million in its reserves, unlike Kensington and Chelsea, the council that the Grenfell Tower falls under.

In my block there is an internal fire alarm. When it goes off it only rings in the two exit stairwells which are located at both ends of the building, not the hallway, not the flats as it’s not connected to ring all the fire alarms to alert residents there is a fire in the building and to evacuate. The fire alarm is so quiet because the sound is coming from the stairwell. When it goes off, many residents don’t hear it. I and others have complained about that but nothing has been done.

We have had four fire alarms where residents had been told to evacuate the building and many residents were still inside with their kids and said they didn’t hear it. That’s no surprise since nobody lives in the stairwell.  I slept through one fire alarm as I couldn’t hear it as I was sleeping and it’s too quiet. If you have the TV or music on you might not hear it, or if you’re sleeping.

Secondly we have no fire blankets or small fire extinguishers to put out small fires, like many flats have for safety.

Thirdly we have no Tenants Association due to the fact the housing association locked us out of the community room and said not enough people attend the meeting. We usually have between 5 and 10 people at our tenants meeting, but they said it’s not enough. So we can’t make an official complaint as the Tenants Association meeting as we aren’t official. It’s been like that for two years now. Our community room has never been open to the tenants officially, it’s been used by the cleaners and by other blocks for their meetings, which is very unfair.

 If one tenant types a letter expressing the complaints of several tenants, the Housing Association will target the person whose address is on the letter and say that they’re the only one complaining. We have to put a resident’s address on the letters as a reply address, as the community room doesn’t have an address or letterbox,  that was binned after the refurbishment

We were promised raised beds to grow vegetables and fruit since many residents are on low incomes. We were hoping to donate the vegetables and fruit to the food bank but that never materialized even though it was on the plans of the refurbishment of the block.

We also have very expensive heating system called the NIBE system , that many residents can’t afford and that other housing associations have had to rip out due to expensive bills that it causes  for residents. Residents have complained about the NIBE but the Housing Association has just blamed the residents and said they haven’t use the NIBE properly.

The major refurbishment of our block included an electricity installation, and it’s caused many power surges that have tripped the electricity in my flat and others’ flats.  My cooker which was only a year and half old tripped my electricity and cut all my electricity off in my flat due to a power surge.  I called out the housing association, they sent an electrician who said it was my cooker. I then called the manufacturer who tested my cooker and said there was nothing wrong with it. My friend who lives in another flat also had problems with her cooker ever since the electricity refit. Her cooker is not working properly. We have never been offered any compensation and being unemployed I had to pay the bill just for the manufacturer to tell me there nothing wrong with my cooker.

Grenfell tower – hundreds of tower blocks around the UK are not fire safe

 Grenfell residents and their blog was complaining about the power surge since their refurbishment. It’s really worrying that we having the same problem. As it’s strange for a fridge freezer to catch fire. Rumours are that it’s the electricity surges and the upgrade of the block that made the fridge catch fire. I can’t know for sure but I don’t believe that fridges randomly catch on fire .

After Grenfell I don’t trust the Tory Government , my local council or the Housing Association.  It’s disgusting that a year after Grenfell many residents haven’t been rehoused.  And that residents who live in high rises like Grenfell with this cladding are being ignored. Its stinks of class warfare to me. Our lives don’t matter in these austerity times.

The housing association lastly have put fire marshalls who are meant to walk the floors 24 hours a day, but many residents have complained that they are always downstairs on the ground floor and never seen walking the floors. If the fire alarm goes off they are meant to run up stairwells , go on each floor  and alert residents to evacuate the building, but in practice they only seem to be on the second  floor or on the ground floor when the fire alarm has sounded, which has made many residents feel unhappy and unsafe.

These are the reasons why many residents are unhappy living in these high rises, because their problems aren’t being addressed and they are being denied a move to safe accommodation.

You can join the ‘Safe Cladding and Insulation Now’ facebook group to share your story and hear from others here.
Full details of the Fuel Poverty action ‘Safe Cladding and Insulation Now’ campaign can be found in the Cladding & Insulation sections of our website.

Government finally promises to fund re-cladding in social housing! A good beginning . . .

Eleven months after promising to “keep our people safe”, the government has announced that they will “fully fund” replacement of cladding in social housing tower blocks.  They estimate the cost at around £400 million.  This is a huge achievement for those who have been pressing hard for this money, including Grenfell survivors, FPA and the many organisations and MPs supporting the demands of our SCIN campaign (Safe Cladding and Insulation Now!), and Local Authorities whose tower blocks are affected.   But it’s nowhere near enough, and there are many unanswered questions, including, incredibly: will the new cladding also be flammable?

Below is the letter we sent to the Secretary of State when Theresa May announced the new money.  We will be writing to him again as soon as he releases, as promised, the details of the planned funding.  We will be inviting supporters to join us in signing this new letter, to be delivered later this year.  Protection for tenants and leaseholders, from fire and from cold is essential and is a minimum that all are entitled to expect.  And there must be no further delays!  The time for re-cladding is now.

Sign our letter to Ofgem on extending their limited cap on energy tariffs

We just took over City Hall to demand the Mayor keep his climate promises

Check out the photos and the video from our friends at Switched on London.
This morning we joined people from across London in bringing Mayor’s Question Time to a standstill, to demand that Sadiq Khan keep his election promises. Join our action online now (or see below).
Along with Switched on London, Divest London and the Greater London Pensioners’ Association we took over the chamber at City Hall and filled it with hundreds of paper planes containing messages for the Mayor.
Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London on the back of two big environmental promises:

  • To set up a public energy company that gives Londoners clean, affordable energy
  • To divest the London Pension Fund from fossil fuels

Over a year in office and he’s broken both. So we decided it was time for action.
Continue reading “We just took over City Hall to demand the Mayor keep his climate promises”

Tell Ofgem: We want a universal cap!

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people and young children in low income homes could be worse off without a fuel price cap – make your voice heard NOW!
Mon 13 November at 9 am is the deadline for responses to a proposed limited cap on energy prices.  You may know that the government has for over a year been promising relief for people who pay the default “standard variable tariff” (SVT) – and who are getting ripped off as a result.  Meanwhile prices have soared, and so have suppliers’ profits.  A small cap on tariffs has been brought in for people with Prepayment Meters.  It’s inadequate, but better than nothing.  For people with credit meters, Theresa May promised a cap, then went back on it, then promised it again: u-turn upon u-turn. And she is now reassuring the energy industry that it will take ages, if it comes in at all.  But meanwhile, the energy regulator Ofgem, with government support, is proposing a limited “safeguarding” cap, which would apply only to people who receive the Warm Home Discount.
Here the story gets murky.  Warm Home Discount – worth £140 a year off your electricity bill — is awarded automatically to pensioners on low incomes.  People deemed “vulnerable” for other reasons – particularly disability or illness, or children aged 5 or under, can apply to their energy supplier and may get it, but it is “first come first served” with a limited pot, and all the suppliers have different requirements to say who qualifies, mostly based on what benefits you receive.  Some smaller suppliers don’t offer Warm Home Discount at all.  
This means that despite being eligible, disabled people and children will often be excluded – not only from the discount itself, but now from the cap, which Ofgem say could save the average user around £120 a year. That is a total of over £260 a year, and much more if you need the heat on a lot or use a lot of power.
Ofgem are consulting on this plan, and Fuel Poverty Action will be telling them that this is particularly shocking.  Disabled people often need more heat, for medical reasons or if we’re home a lot, and can suffer much worse effects if we can’t afford to keep warm.   And, having been hit hardest by multiple cuts, disabled people are in a worse position to deal with rising fuel prices.  The same is true for the parents of babies and young children, with benefit cuts, universal credit and low wages causing a massive increase in child poverty.
There is even a risk that, if the cap is applied to some people, the people who don’t qualify for the cap may see our fuel prices rise by even more, as suppliers try to make up the difference through cross-subsidisation!
An Ofgem press release says they will “Ofgem will work on extending price protection to at least a further 2 million vulnerable households for winter next year once the timing of the Government’s price cap is confirmed”.  However, there is nothing about this “work” in the actual consultation papers; instead they repeatedly say that to bring the cap in quickly, they will limit it to people who already get the Warm Home Discount.
Fuel Poverty Action think a cap should apply across the board – no means-testing, no cliff-edge where your bills go up if you get knocked off disability benefits, or get a rise in pay, or get married … The prices are too high for everyone now, thousands of people in all sorts of situations are dying from cold every year, and suppliers are making a killing.
But in the meantime, the Ofgem cap is scheduled to come in this coming February.  At the very least, it should apply to everyone who would be eligible for Warm Home Discount, whether or not you actually get it.   If you want to help make sure that the cap covers more of the people who need it most urgently, you can send a simple email to:
Jemma Baker at [email protected], by 9am on Monday 13 November
And send us a copy at [email protected]!
Tell them: warm homes are a right – not a “first-come-first-served” lottery!
Feel free to check out our response for inspiration.

PRESS RELEASE: Fuel poverty campaigners ridicule little CMA cap on prepayment meter tariffs

11th November 2016

A dozen campaigners today delivered a response to the Competition and Market Authority’s proposals to cap the extra cost paid for energy by users of prepayment meters. They came from Fuel Poverty Action, National Right to Fuel Campaign, Unison, and the All African Women’s Group, and included pensioners, teachers, and asylum seekers. They wielded placards proclaiming “Your cap doesn’t fit”, “Higher Tariffs = Discrimination” and “Cold Homes Kill”.i

sara6

Prepayment meter users pay on average £300 more than customers on direct debit. The CMA propose to decrease this difference by just £75. In their response, Fuel Poverty Action demanded parity, a position which has been endorsed by a series of other organisations.ii FPA handed in the response in the lobby of Victoria House, in a tiny doll’s cap, to highlight the insult of the CMA’s insufficient proposal.

Passing on the cap containing a scroll with the response, Ruth London of FPA told Project Director Erika Lewis, “Energy companies’ license conditions forbid discrimination against users of PPMs, the CMA’s own Roger Witcombe has declared, It is unacceptable that 4 million households on prepayment meters, many of them vulnerable, face higher bills than other energy customers,’ and yet the CMA’s proposals will perpetuate this injustice.” Erika Lewis, for the CMA, agreed that the proposals are not set in stone and promised that they would take seriously the evidence provided.

Given the rife exploitation of customers by the energy industry, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary Greg Clark has promised to “deal with this problem”. Fuel Poverty Action are therefore today sending a letter to both Greg Clark and Theresa May to ask whether they genuinely intend to challenge an industry that has had a free pass for so long, or will they bring in measures like the CMA’s cap, that sound good on paper, but in practice leave us in the cold.

Case Study

As well as costing more, PPMs are often forced on people, sometimes by break-ins to their homes. One such case is that of Josh Hull of Windsor who came home to find his front door lock broken – hea thought he had been burgled. He then found his payments debited for a previous tenant’s debt – a common problem – and is unable to use his electricity. Aside from the cost, he says the anxiety and sleepless nights are draining, and have harmed his performance in a new job. He is ready to speak to the media.

[i] Pictures available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B0qHcBpAhFaCVUQtcWwxS0RiYkk?usp=sharing

[ii] See our response on our website for the full list of endorsements: https://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/campaigns/no-minor-cap-on-prepayment-meters-parity-now/

Email: [email protected]

Website: fuelpovertyaction.org.uk

Phone: 07751 748 026

Twitter: @fuelpovaction

Prepayment justice – Callout for testimonials and support!

At the moment, we are trying to intervene to affect the level of the “cap” being proposed on prepayment meter tariffs.
It’s good that the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) is proposing a cap at all, but completely unjust that they still want people on prepayment meters – who are usually the worst off customers, and often in debt – to pay hundreds of pounds more for their fuel than people who pay their bills by direct debit. We have written a response to the CMA which we will deliver to them at their offices in London at 10.30 this Friday. We would love for you to join us – just meet outside Unite in Holborn at 10.30am!
We will be including, anonymously, some of the testimonies from the Speak Out web page. We’ve also just launched an online petition demanding that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy force parity for prepayment meter customers against those on direct debit. If you would like to help with any of this, please let us know.
The biggest help would be if you would like to speak out about your own situation – in your own name or anonymously, in the media around the 11th November action, or later through our own multi-media “speak out” platform that one of our members is creating. Email us at [email protected] with ‘Testimonial’ in the subject line if you can help.
Let’s fight the penalisation of poverty by prepayment meters!
In solidarity, FPA.

No minor cap on prepayment meters – parity now!

The Competition and Markets Authority, at the end of two years of considering the shameful state of the UK energy market, have decided on the very partial remedy of capping the difference in tariff between people on prepayment meters and those paying for their energy by direct debit. But this isn’t enough and never will be, we demand equality for those on prepayment meters! Below is our response to the CMA’s subsequent consultation (or click here for the document).
We would like to invite other organisations concerned about fuel poverty, prepayment meters or energy equality to endorse our response to the CMA. If you would like to do so, please email us  before Friday 11th November with your name, the name of your organisation, and your position or authority to sign. Put “Endorsement” in the subject line. We will add the organisation below and include a list when we hand this in on Friday.
Endorsements
Plymouth Energy Community
SELCE (South East London Community Energy)
Lambeth Green Party
Barnet Green Party
Switched On London
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
WinVisible (Women with visible and invisible disabilities)
Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike
English Collective of Prostitutes
All African Women’s Group
UNISON
Payday men’s network
DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts)
Lambeth Asian Centre
Greater London Pensioners Association
Reclaim the Power
National Right to Fuel Campaign
 

Response to Competition and Markets Authority

proposals for a cap on Prepayment Meter tariffs

We are responding to your announcement on 11 October 2016 that you intend to impose a cap on prices charged to customers using prepayment meters (PPMs) for their energy, which will reduce the energy costs by around £75 per year. You say, “It is unacceptable that four million households on prepayment meters, many of them vulnerable, face higher bills than other energy customers”.i Yet the cap you propose would leave PPM customers still paying much more for their power. We believe this proposal is discriminatory, unjust and unjustifiable. The higher charges imposed on PPM customers act as a tax on poverty. Instead, prepayment customers should be offered parity with customers paying by direct debit, and should be compensated for their many years of paying extortionate prices, during which many people have gone cold, and many have gone hungry in order to keep the meter fed.

Our reasons are these:

1. You found that the cheapest tariffs for prepayment meter users are £260 – £320 a year more than for direct debit customers, averaged out, in your March report, at £300 per year per customer. A cap reducing this by £75 is unacceptable. Even if, as you claim, PPMs cost more to administer, your proposal would still allow suppliers to take in an extra £160 profit per year from each PPM customer.

2. Prepayment meter users are usually the worst off customers, financially. By your own report, they are most likely to “have low income; have low or no qualifications; have a disability; and live in social housing.”ii It is regressive, unjust, and dangerous to health to make the people who have the least resources pay the highest prices for their energy.

3. Fuel Poverty Action is constantly being contacted by people who are being pushed onto a prepayment meter against their will, or who already have one and are in despair over the high cost of their energy, the high rate of debt repayment, or the difficulty of accessing a meter or a payment point. The hard realities of their dealings with the energy suppliers make a mockery of the protections that are officially in place to protect people who are vulnerable financially and in other ways. Your deliberations should not be based on what is supposed to happen but on what happens in practice. The high price paid for energy through prepayment meters is even worse in the context of brutality, illegality, high standing charges and debt repayment rates. Please see brief personal testimonies, attached.

4. Prepayment meters are often forced on customers because of arrears, or the fear of them. At one end of the scale are people who choose a PPM “to help them budget” because cash is so short that they cannot afford to risk using energy according to their needs. At the other extreme are people whose homes are broken into to impose a PPM after they go into arrears – a violent and traumatic experience for people whose lives are already difficult. In between are the millions who move into a rented home where they have no choice, or who are pressurised onto a PPM because the energy company fails to properly explore all other options for paying off a debt.

5. It is counter to natural justice that people in arrears should be forced onto a system of payment which is more expensive.

4. Prepayment meters are not supposed to be installed unless it is “safe and reasonably practicable” for the customer to use them, and to top up their key or card. The necessary checks are often ignored, magistrates do not study cases closely, and the meters are often imposed on people for whom they are dangerous, because they are not physically able to top up, or because they are in danger when the power goes off.

5. The higher rate of exploitation of PPM customers acts as a perverse incentive to suppliers to push customers onto this means of dealing with arrears, instead of exploring ways to help their customers and treating a PPM as they are supposed to – as a last resort.

6. Vulnerable customers are protected from having their power disconnected, at least in the winter and in many cases all year round. Yet PPM users are in effect disconnected all the time. When they cannot afford to top up, or are unable to get to a payment point, the power clicks off and they end up cold, in the dark, without refrigeration for food or medicines, and unable to charge their phones.

7. Getting to a payment point can be a real problem for some customers, and is time consuming and extra work for all. It can also be expensive, especially in rural areas.

8. In addition to the extra premium on their payments, many PPM customers have to pay warrant costs for installation, some still have to pay other installation costs, and they are more likely than other customers to have repayment rates for arrears they have run up on credit meters set at a level that they cannot afford.

9. You calculate the extra cost to companies of administering PPMs, mostly caused by administering the payment points in shops, at £63. We note that you originally calculated the difference at £54, but raised it under pressure from the Big Six energy companies. iii

10. The arguments advanced by suppliers are highly revealing; you yourselves admit that they are “not robust.” For instance, the inclusion of bad debt as an extra cost of PPMs when the debt was necessarily incurred before, not while using the meter, or counting emergency credit as “bad debt”. One company said cost differential was higher because PPM users more likely to be disabled or single mothers so more likely to be on the Priority Services Register for vulnerable customers (PSR)! The idea that vulnerability is a reason for higher charges should set alarm bells ringing. So should the use of fatuous arguments to justify higher prices. This is a clear sign that customers are being ripped off — in defiance of clear regulations stipulating that there must be no price discrimination according to method of payment.

11. There appears to be little weight given to the fact that PPM users’ payments are made up front. Like Direct Debit payments, they never require chasing. There is no need for meter readings and no need for bills, and in addition, the cash is advanced to the supplier before the power is used.

12. The technical arguments you advance as a reason for your very little cap, a cap which only slightly dents the poverty premium, will not make sense to the millions of PPM customers, nor to anyone concerned with ending this injustice. You talk about “perverse incentives” if the cap were to be set too low, and the need for headroom to allow suppliers to compete beneath the level of the cap while still earning a normal rate of return”. iv This appears to promote a hope that in practice companies will price lower than the cap, to be competitive. But you must know this is unlikely to happen. For years you have attempted to make competition work in the energy market (doorstep selling / no doorstep selling / doorstep selling again; multiple tariffs / a few simple tariffs / multiple tariffs again). In the domestic energy market, competition does not work. And for PPM customers in particular, it cannot work: it is difficult and often impossible for these customers to switch supplier. What is needed is a publicly owned and accountable energy industry, and failing that, stringent Government regulation to prevent profiteering at the expense of people’s lives. This could begin with a cap that brings PPM users into parity with their better off neighbours who can pay their bills by Direct Debit.

13. You calculate that in 2014 suppliers made £2 billion more profits than they would have if the market were working as it should.v That winter 15,000 people are estimated to have died because they could not afford to heat their homes.1 vi This is not acceptable to the public.

Fuel Poverty Action 11 November 2016

1

i Roger Witcomb, chair of the energy market investigation, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/next-step-towards-300m-saving-for-prepayment-energy-customers 11 October 2016

ii https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/531204/overview-modernising-the-energy-market.pdf para 18

iv https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/576c23e4ed915d622c000087/Energy-final-report-summary.pdf para 248

v https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/531204/overview-modernising-the-energy-market.pdf

vi Excess winter deaths in 2014 – 15 estimated to have been caused by cold homes numbered 15,000 in the UK.