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.

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

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”.

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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 

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.

An Unusual Update – Spring 2020

Given the times we are living in, there’s a lot in this Update — and a lot to be done.

The sections are:

    1. The health emergency
    2. Ways forward from this crisis (our own initiatives and others’)
    3. Cladding and insulation
    4. District heating

The formatting on our website isn’t amazing – you can also read this in a google doc here

Changing times

The weather is improving, but for millions, finding money for fuel bills continues to be a crisis, with more energy 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.  Instead of 2 for 1 offers, shoppers are finding supermarket prices raised — while supermarkets, despite soaring profits, are also benefiting from government crisis funds.  One in five families with children is going hungry in this wealthy country — and in poorer parts of the world, famines are under way.  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”, where PPE and testing arrive last for both workers and residents.

This is the horror now being confronted by a groundswell of grassroots people and networks, organising to support our own families and communities and to demand from the government, from politicians and from businesses, a total reversal of priorities.  Health must come first, and an economy that prioritises private profit has been shown not to deliver on health.  What has long been clear to millions who are fighting over fuel bills, housing, heating, food and inadequate incomes, is now public for the world to see.  So are the many money trees that can clearly be found when wanted.  The 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 energy markets and housing provision that were already killing 10,000 people a year in cold homes.  And at the same time, as the clock nears midnight, we may have a chance to avert the worst of a climate apocalypse.

FPA is a very small, unfunded organisation and we can’t do all we would wish.  But like so many others, we are fighting for our lives:

1. Immediate survival

If you are in trouble with your bill or meter, do contact us.  FPA are not distributing fuel vouchers — we have no funding, and there are people better placed than us to do this work. However, we are working with people who have raised money for this purpose (eg Repowering London, in Lambeth; SGTO in Southwark – see Covid-19 fundraiser here) and wherever you are, if you let us know, we will do our best to put you in touch with help, including pressing your energy supplier for a better response to your emergency.

We are also keen to hear from you what problems you are having, and whether you have been able to access support, in order to better fuel our pressure on both the government and suppliers.  Personal stories can be powerful!

Our first action in response to the Covid crisis was to publicise — but challenge — the agreement reached by the government and energy suppliers.  It’s supposed to ensure that people who cannot pay their bills or top up their meters get help.  It is far too limited, and we find many people can’t even get through to the help lines.  Please see our petition (and sign it, if you haven’t yet).  The first demand is immediate free credit for all prepayment meter users so that they are not left in the cold while trying to negotiate with suppliers. The petition has had some good media coverage (below) and has helped shape the public debate.  It needs more signatures!

We are following this up with support for a petition put forward by People’s Energy, for a government grant fund to make sure people can get financial support — and not just deferment of payment, landing them further in debt.  We believe, however that suppliers who benefit from such a deal with the government, should meet certain conditions, including no dividends while they are in effect receiving public funds.  There are, after all, suppliers who have for years left people to die from cold, forced prepayment meters on people (sometimes illegally), lobbied against renewable energy, and benefited from subsidies of fossil fuels. They cannot continue along the same tracks.  But with the energy market failing to deliver, a government fund is now a matter of life and death.

We’ve written to the government about these two petitions. Unfortunately so far the response has been pathetic.   We have also pressed for the existing protections to be extended to users of District Heating, with some, incomplete, success.

 2. Looking forward

FPA are currently supporting several initiatives that you may also want to sign on to, with a view to making sure that we move forward to a liveable world instead of bailing out the forces that have made “normal” a disaster.

Build Back Better 

The UK’s Build Back Better campaign is being launched today, Tuesday 12 May, which is International Nurses Day.  We’ll be taking part — do join us, beginning today by  sharing the video in support of Nurses United UK, which went live at 8.30 am.  Build Back Better’s first demand is:

Secure the health of everyone in the UK now and into the future, irrespective of employment or nationality – including for food, healthcare, income, job security, good housing and access to clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air  and green spaces.  

We will be pressing forward with specific demands on the “housing” and “energy” parts.

A Care Income

FPA have signed up to an Open Letter to governments demanding an income for carers.  Launched by the Global Women’s Strike and Green New Deal for Europe (GNDE) in 12 languages, this letter is supported by grassroots organisations all over the world and is open for signatures (individuals too).  It’s particularly relevant now, with the huge increase in unpaid work as we care for our families, neighbours and communities (see GNDE’s Covid-19 statement).  But FPA have long supported the principle, which would give many women, particularly, an income that reflects their contribution, and is enough to cover heating and other essentials.  As the National Pensioners’ Convention recently wrote to Matt Hancock, “The government must invest in the future by: . . . a national care service [and] . . . Creating an income for ‘informal carers’ – those who save the government billions of pounds each year for the pittance of carer’s allowance or in lots of cases, nothing at all.”

Supporting these initiatives, FPA is extending more to attacking the “Income” side of fuel poverty, while we also contribute to the housing, retrofitting, and heating proposals of Green New Deal organisers — GND UK, GND Europe, and the Scottish “Our Common Home”.

A “Warm Floor”

Prompted by the urgent need for guaranteed heat and power we have picked up again the proposal we started putting forward over a year ago: that everyone should get a certain amount of energy for free — but tariffs would increase for energy used above and beyond that “floor”.  This would reverse the perverse present situation where people who can’t afford much energy, or who cut their usage for the climate, pay more per unit than those who use a lot.  Combined with protections for people who actually need a lot of energy, this “Warm Floor” would provide a level of security.  Please get in touch if you would like to help us work through whether and how this can best be implemented.  

Contracts for a real difference

We’ve endorsed an open letter to the government, from Biofuelwatch, which you may want to sign on to here.  It’s pretty technical but is focused on making sure that moves towards “green energy” end up being the real thing, and not a con, like many forms of biofuel.

Campaigning is not extremism

We have also signed onto the open letter calling for the National Police Chiefs Council to confirm – before the lockdown is over – that it will abandon the categorisation of political campaigning activities as “domestic extremism”. Netpol want to close this letter off by the end of this week — if you want to support the right to protest, and to organise in these critical and unpredictable times, you may want to sign on as well.

3. Fire and cold

We’ve continued to support residents of Pendleton high rise estate in Salford, who have lived for three years in buildings that have Grenfell-style cladding, and all the same other fire dangers as those found in Grenfell itself.  Not even the faulty fire doors have been fixed.  The cost to these social housing tenants’ mental health has been disastrous, and made worse by the social landlord.  Pendleton Together have been ordering tenants indoors when they’ve been out of the building more than half an hour — and threatening them with the police or implications for their tenancies.  We’ve rounded up support for them including from their MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.

Meanwhile in Parliament, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published the findings of a survey into progress in dealing with fire risks since Grenfell.  1,352 people completed the survey, which found that:

  • 70% of respondents had different forms of combustible cladding and many had other fire safety issues like inadequate fire breaks (34%), and combustible or missing insulation (30%).
  • Residents’ mental health is still in pieces from living in flammable buildings, and many are also paying a high price financially, eg for 24-hour fire watch services.
  • There’s lots more — this 3-page report is well worth reading!
  • As the number of buildings facing re-cladding continues to expand, with residents fighting for the inclusion of buildings under 18 M high and with different types of flammable cladding, we’re continuing to raise the issue of homes being cold when cladding is off, succeeding.  We’ve helped get this included in others’ campaigns, eg here.

4. District Heating

  • When the virus struck, we were just beginning a series of meetings with residents on Southwark’s many council estates which are served by ageing and dysfunctional district heating networks.  Loss of heating and hot water happen all the time and residents, both tenants and leaseholders, are desperate.  While pressing for more lasting solutions, we have worked with Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO) to make real a promise that the Council made last year: that at least people would not be out of pocket during break-downs when they’re forced to pay for electric space heaters and hot water.  Pre-lockdown we had a good meeting with the Council on the subject of this compensation.  It is understandable that follow-up has been delayed, but it is now even more urgent.  People in crisis can’t be expected to shoulder these extra costs.
  • Leaseholders in Southwark, and in New Festival Quarter private estate in Tower Hamlets, have been fighting demands for huge sums of money to pay for repairs to their heating system which do not improve things, and/or which should be covered by insurance claims or snagging.  We are also supporting them.
  • And we are actively supporting tenants on a Peabody estate, also in Tower Hamlets, who have been fighting for a fair tariff for their district heating — backdated to when they moved in, last September, having been given no contract or information about their heat. They have made some progress.
  • After years of pressure from ourselves and others, the government are finally consulting on regulations for the District Heating industry.  We will be submitting evidence to this, by 1 June, based on reports from users round the country – do send your experience in.  

Finally, if you would like to offer regular financial (or other!) support to FPA, please let us know.  We will shortly be launching a scheme called “Friends of FPA” for regular contributors, and it would be great to start out with a few named supporters. 

Fuel Poverty Action Autumn Update 2019

Outside MHCLG on 17 October 2019 to demand “Safe Cladding and Insulation Now” | Photo: Mark Kerrison

As for so many organisations, autumn 2019 has been particularly busy.

1. Safe cladding and insulation — again!

As the Grenfell community and people round the country await the critically important Moore-Bick report on the fire, due this Wednesday, many remain in crisis about their own situations.  In the words of Edward Daffarn of Grenfell United, “Thousands of people go to sleep at night in homes effectively covered with liquid paraffin.  The fact is that this catastrophe was predictable. . . . Accidents do happen, but this wasn’t an accident.” 

On 17 October we delivered to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) a second Open Letter on safe cladding and insulation — following the SCIN campaign’s first edition exactly one year before.  This time, the letter had over 80 weighty signatures collected in just over a week, including six national unions, nine MPs from three parties and many other organisations furious that the commitments made on replacing flammable cladding have not been met.  And furious, also, that programmes to install insulation have been cut by over 90%, while thousands die each year from the cold. Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad delivered the letter after MHCLG had refused to meet residents!

For a report, supporters, and the letter itself, see here; for more photos see below.

2. Heating, housing, and local authorities

In several London boroughs we’ve been feeding in residents’ experiences on housing and heating systems to local groups trying to get their local authorities to act on the climate emergency that many have declared.  We’ve been working with Sustainable Hackney, XR Southwark, Friends of the Earth Lambeth, and various initiatives in Brent. We’ve also taken part in discussions on the potential local provisions of a Green New Deal.  Many policies and projects can immediately help people keep warm, but they need to be planned and executed accountably. New heating systems must bring bills down — not up! — and insulation must avoid creating damp homes, toxic air, or, of course, fire risks. 

3. Climate mobilisations

FPA has taken part in the mobilisations on climate being organised everywhere as the world increasingly wakes up to this critical moment in the earth’s history.  On 20 September we took the SCIN banner — Safe Cladding and Insulation Now! — to the UK Student Climate Network strike in London — and had dozens of interested queries on the lines of, “what’s that got to do with it?”  Insulation, a key weapon against carbon emissions — has yet to make it onto many mainstream climate organisers’ agenda.  

We also gave out hundreds of our popular little pink  “Pressing Questions” pamphlet, titled “Climate Justice  — at home — and saw people studying them all over the park. And Ruth did a 3 minute interview as part of the “Solutions Zone”, with safe, non-toxic insulation figuring prominently..

Then, during Extinction Rebellion’s October uprising, we joined the Global Justice Rebellion at St James Park and then — when evicted — Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, to discuss different demands and battles for survival, especially in the Global South. We brought to these discussions our more UK-based demands for climate justicehere.– and our experience of battles over housing and heating and the thorny issue of subsidies, carbon taxes and the rising price of fossil fuels.  Global Justice Rebellion signed our Open Letter and helped organise for the MHCLG event (above), and we are continuing to work with them. 

4. Green New Deals and the Universal Energy Allowance

We’ve taken part in discussions about the Green New Deal in the UK, but have contributed most significantly to the Green New Deal for Europe.  GNDE’s report, worked on intensively all over the continent and recently submitted to the EU’s Vice President, included FPA’s  proposal for a universal free energy allowance (see 3.3.2) as well as detailed stipulations on housing construction practices and accountability to residents (see 2.4.1). 

We’re setting up a working group on the universal energy allowance idea (the “warm floor” we have put forward in numerous places and received a good response) and have started consulting some experts. 

5. Local battles

At the same time we are continuing to work with individuals and tenants and residents organisations fighting over bills, poor housing, and dysfunctional heating systems — like the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, Hillingdon’s Pembroke Park Residents Association, and residents of Pendleton, Salford. 

6. Annual report

Almost forgot!  Way back in history — in September! — we held our AGM and published our Annual Report .  Please take a look if you’d like to see what we’ve been up to over the past year.

If there is any aspect of this work that you’d like to get involved in, please get in touch. 

Our next monthly meeting will be on Wednesday 6 November.  

We also welcome donations, affiliations, or help to raise money — FPA are still unfunded!