Ruth London and others appeared on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire to discuss fuel poverty, people freezing this winter, and the energy price cap. Watch below.
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London Estates Are Freezing and Damp After Cladding Was Removed Post-Grenfell ,Vice News, 30.01.2018
Every day, Jyoti Bhatt sits alone in her council flat in Barnet, feeling cold and depressed. A 56-year-old mother of two recovering from a brain haemorrhage, Bhatt is finding the cold and damp in her 14th floor home impossible to bear. “We have to put our heating on all the time to keep warm and I can’t afford the bills,” she says.
Bhatt is one of many residents experiencing a bitterly cold winter this year as cladding and insulation have been removed from their estates, post-Grenfell.
Shoddy cladding was widely blamed for the inferno at Grenfell tower that killed 71 people, and since then – according to the latest government statistics – 26 buildings across the UK have had their cladding and insulation removed. Only three of those have had full replacements put in, leaving 23 buildings poorly protected from the winter cold and wind.
“Who lives like this in this country?” Bhatt asks, gesturing to the huge damp patches across her living room wall. She also has damp in the bathroom and kitchen, and sometimes the walls become so water-logged that the family has to collect the offshoot in pots.
Bhatt says the council have done absolutely nothing to help her, keeping her on hold for hours whenever she tries to call. “If we’re late paying our rent they’ll send us a notice immediately, but when I’m cold and sick they’re nowhere,” she says.
The people on the highest floors and on the same side as the prevailing winds are suffering most from the exposure.
Anila Gjeta lives on the top floor of Templemead Point in Barnet with her husband and two children. She says she’s embroiled in a constant juggling act between keeping warm and limiting the damp, which hadn’t appeared until this year. If she heats the house enough to keep her family warm, the damp patches that sprawl across her living room and sons’ bedroom get even bigger and denser.
“If you touch the wall it feels like there’s water pouring down, it’s a disaster,” she says. “And when I kiss my kids goodnight I feel their faces and they have freezing noses.”
The London Borough of Barnet say they are paying residents £525 to cover the increased fuel costs over the winter period, which equates to £15 per week. In a statement, they added: “Barnet Homes have written to all residents within the blocks to provide additional advice and steps to reduce condensation together with contact details for further information and how to arrange home visits.”
However, many on the ground say they are yet to receive any money, and others say that it doesn’t matter how much they heat their homes, they cannot get rid of the cold.
“There’s a huge difference from any other year I’ve been here,” says Patrick Small, a 72-year-old who has lived on the 14th floor of one of the Chalcots blocks for 40 years. “I find it so hard to warm up.” Patrick lives with his brother, and over Christmas, they both got a bad flu and were knocked out for 14 days, including New Year’s Eve. “We’re worried because we’ll have to put up with another winter of this,” he adds, referring to the fact that new cladding and insulation will not be fully fitted across the Chalcots Estates until August of 2019, according to a report released this week by the Camden Housing Scrutiny Committee. It is estimated to cost somewhere between £16 and £22 million.
“It’s gonna take a long time, and it’s frustrating,” says Sian Berry, London Assembly Member and Green Party councillor for Camden.
The council is offering compensation for extra heating bills, which they say will cover the difference between this year and 2016. In a statement, they said, “Camden Council is committed to meeting the extra heating costs Chalcots residents incur from October 2017 to the end of April 2018 as a result of the cladding removal. We don’t want anyone to be concerned about keeping warm this winter because of cost, which is why we have stepped in.”
Simon Happily, a resident of the 22nd floor of Chalcots, says it currently takes eight or nine hours to increase the temperature of his flat by three degrees. “There are times when I feel cold for hours, even when I have the heating on full,” he says, adding that while Camden have promised to make up the extra costs of their gas, boilers also use electricity, and the council has only offered £10 opt-in shop vouchers to cover that cost for the whole winter period.
“There have been times when I’ve thought about buying extra electricity heaters, but I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” says Happily. “I don’t think Camden have got their head around how desperate a situation they’re putting people in.”
Last week, Camden New Journal reported that, since November, Camden Council has been refusing to pay the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) company responsible for installing flammable cladding on the Chalcots Estate. The withheld payments are so far estimated to be in excess of £1.7 million.
Councillor Sian Berry says these savings should be directly funnelled to cold residents. “They should be given electric plug-in heaters to provide that extra heat that people need, and the council should be covering the cost,” she argues.
Guardian Letters: Ruth London responds to article on slow response of Council’s to tower block recladding
Your article (Recladding of risky towers barely begun, 23 January) notes that one council has “promised to pay tenants extra heating bills”. But Grenfell’s experience has taught everyone: beware of promises. Although many council-tenant residents whose cladding has been removed are getting discounts or vouchers to help with heating, these often go nowhere near meeting the costs in a now-uninsulated high-rise flat, where even 24/7 heating may not be sufficient to keep warm. Cold, damp and mould are affecting the health of whole families.
Like fire, cold is serious. It is especially lethal for residents who are elderly, disabled or ill. Last winter, over 11,000 people are estimated to have died because they could not heat their homes. These dual terrors were the subject of our 18 January public meeting, Dying from Fire, Dying from Cold: Housing Safety Post-Grenfell.
Responsibility for fire hazards, for inadequate or missing insulation, for watered-down regulations, and for the running down of resources for inspection and enforcement, is shared by local authorities, landlords and central government. It also lies with developers and contractors – the ones that clad UK high-rises in flammable materials and left out insulation where it was specified. They profited from the savings.
Amid “disputes between councils and the government over who should pay”, the people who bear no responsibility are the ones who are paying: in increased poverty, worsened health, and potentially even with lives. Meanwhile, Grenfell survivors are still in hotels.
Fuel Poverty Action
Link to original response: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/23/tenants-pay-for-housing-fiascos-from-post-grenfell-bills-to-self-financing
Elderly forced to choose between ‘heating and eating’, South London Press, 21.03.16
Protesters turned up the heat on Lambeth council by staging a “warm-up” demonstration at Brixton Tate library. Campaigners demanded action to prevent the elderly, ill and disabled becoming victims of the cold in their own homes.
Residents on the Myatts Fields South estate say they are being forced to switch from a communal heating system at a flat rate cost to more expensive single boilers. Lucy Williams, from the Myatts Fields South Tenants and Residents Association, said: “Some residents who have the new boilers have complained that they have had to choose between heating and eating.
“But many of us still have our communal heating and do not want to give it up. We also want good insulation and solar water heating added so everyone on the estate can keep warm and still afford to eat.”
British Gas owner Centrica’s CEO earns £3m in his first year, The Guardian, 16.03.16
Iain Conn, the chief executive of British Gas’s owner Centrica, earned £3m in his first 12 months despite overseeing a fall in underlying profits and making thousands of job cuts.
The energy boss received a £580,000 bonus and a £600,000 “recruitment award” as well as a basic salary of £925,000.
“It’s outrageous that one man can pocket so much, whilst so many people are counting pennies trying keep their meter topped up through the winter. British Gas are ruthless in pursuing customers in debt, trying to get blood out of a stone,” said a spokeswoman for the Fuel Poverty Action group.
“Yet the recent [CMA] report confirms that they and the other five big energy companies have been creaming off £1.7bn a year and rising – £2.5bn last year – in extra profits from their loyal customers,” she added.
Energy price cap: Being able to switch providers means solution is in our hands, The Independent, 10.03.16
There’s been a lot of criticism of the CMA’s proposals to produce a fairer and more competitive energy market. Fuel Poverty Action accused the watchdog of pandering to the Big Six. Laura Hill of the campaign group said: “The announcement is a testimony to the stranglehold of the Big Six over this investigation. Extensive lobbying has resulted in these pathetic watered-down recommendations which will have little impact on the majority of hard-pressed households who have spent the winter shivering in their homes.”
Most experts seem to agree that the plan for a database of customers will be a disaster. Will Hodson, co-founder of consumer collective The Big Deal predicted: “The proposal would take exploited customers out of the pan and into the fire of a thousand cynical sales pitches.”
These accusations are a nightmare for the CMA which probably expected its proposals would be widely welcomed. There were welcomed by the Big Six which breathed a collective sigh of relief that they had escaped major censure.
Competition regulator’s energy market plan ‘will lead to junk mail deluge’, The Guardian, 10.03.16
The competition watchdog has been warned that proposals to give energy suppliers access to a new industry-wide database of customers could unleash a junk mail deluge.
The plan was one of several remedies proposed by the Competition and Markets Authority to reform an energy market in which households are overcharged £1.7bn a year.
Laura Hill, for campaign group Fuel Poverty Action, said: “Today’s announcement is a testimony to the stranglehold of the ‘big six’ over this investigation. Extensive lobbying has resulted in these pathetic watered-down recommendations which will have little impact on the majority of hard-pressed households who have spent the winter shivering in their home.”
Energy bills could be slashed for around four million households in Britain after an energy watchdog accused the ‘Big Six’ power companies of taking customers for granted.
Homes on pre-payment meters may see their power bills drop under proposals announced by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
However, Fuel Poverty Action called the proposals “pathetic” and say they will do next to nothing to help freezing families. A spokesperson said: “Today’s announcement is a testimony to the stranglehold of the Big Six over this investigation. Extensive lobbying has resulted in these pathetic watered-down recommendations which will have little impact on the majority of hard-pressed households who have spent the winter shivering in their home.”
Anger at DECC as fuel poverty hits millions, The Independent, 16.2.13
Campaigners will today take their anger to the offices of Department of Energy & Climate Change to express their dissatisfaction with rising energy bills and increased fuel poverty.
The demonstrations are part of a UK-wide week of action on fuel poverty entitled Stop the Great Fuel Robbery, called by direct action-group Fuel Poverty Action. Yesterday, demonstrators targeted the Edinburgh headquarters of Scottish Gas. Other protests will take place in Nottingham, Lewisham, Haringey, Hackney and Southwark.
Campaigners will present Energy & Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey with giant mock fuel bills, bearing the slogan “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay.”
Protesters gather outside Scottish Gas, The Scotsman, 16.2.13
Protesters have gathered outside Scottish Gas’ headquarters in Edinburgh to campaign against rising profits while one in four people are living in fuel poverty.
James Granger, campaigner for Fuel Poverty Action, said many people are “being forced to make an impossible choice between heating and eating, while the profits of the big six energy companies just keep going up”.
Campaigners urge energy bill action, Belfast Telegraph, 16.2.13
Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action is planning to protest outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in central London, to call on ministers to act for families facing the impossible choice between eating and heating.
Rising energy costs have left more than six million households in the UK in fuel poverty because they spend more than 10% of their income on heating their homes, the group said.
Offices of energy companies, local government and housing providers were targeted by protesters over the weekend in a series of co-ordinated nationwide activities to fight rising fuel prices and the increasing number of people forced into fuel poverty.
Elizabeth Ziga from Fuel Poverty Action said: “We want to challenge the big six energy companies which control 99 per cent of the energy industry and make record profits off our rising bills.
“Thousands die each year in the UK because they cannot afford to heat their homes, and hundreds of thousands die globally due to climate change. The Government is in bed with these companies, is doing nothing to deal with the poor quality of housing many of us experience, and to make matters worse has just cut the winter fuel allowance.”
Fuel poverty activists gained access to the headquarters of British Gas and occupied a room near the office of its managing director, Phil Bentley, for six hours to protest “profiteering” by energy suppliers.
Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action said the incident was part of a weekend of activity targeting energy companies, local government and housing providers “over fuel poverty and corporate greed”. There was a protest outside supplier nPower’s offices in Swindon on Friday.
A group of protesters occupied the headquarters of British Gas in Surrey to protest households suffering “fuel poverty”.
Robert Evans, 25, who was one of the occupiers, said: “There were six of us on two floors, three in each room. We just walked in at about 8.30 this morning. We left at about 4.30pm because police were trying to force their way in so we thought it best to leave on our own terms. We hope that this action and 10 others that took place over the weekend will help to change the energy system and start the move for millions of households suffering fuel poverty towards a fair, green energy system.”
Activists occupied the British Gas headquarters in Surrey for more than seven hours to protest at fuel bills. Six people “barricaded themselves into meeting rooms” at about 09:00 GMT, Fuel Poverty Action said.
Hannah Edler, a 27-year-old protester, said: “We could have a fairer system where our energy is owned by communities who decide how it is priced and produced.”
Six activists have barricaded themselves inside British Gas offices, according to reports. The protesters are campaigning against fuel poverty and what they claim is “Big Six profiteering”. The protestors have been at the energy supplier’s building in Staines, Middlesex since this morning and appear to have handed flyers to staff and strung a banner across the main entrance.
The demonstration is organised by campaign group Fuel Poverty Action as part of a set of national protests called the ‘Winter Warm-Up’ weekend, targeting energy companies, local government and housing providers over fuel poverty. Protestor Hannah Edler, 27, said: “Heat or Eat is a choice no-one should have to face. The Big Six energy companies are raking in record profits while our bills rise… We’re here to put ourselves in the way of this shameless profiteering.”
Fuel Poverty Action Group campaigns outside EDF Energy headquarters to highlight awareness of the 25,700 excess winter deaths in the UK in 2010-11.
Pensioner Linda Powell is sat shivering on a London street, her teeth chattering beneath blue lips as she uses a cardigan to keep warm. Fortunately for Powell she is only pretending to be a victim of fuel poverty – she is taking part in an organised “die-in” outside the headquarters of EDF Energy overlooking Green Park, London.
Nevertheless Powell, 61, thinks the situation is a disgrace: “I’ve just become a pensioner and I’ve received my winter fuel allowance of £200, down from £250 thanks to the government. I am having to hold back on putting my central heating on, and do everything to cut back. I have to turn off the heating when I go out, and I only heat one room. I’m just about keeping going, to be honest.”
Ruth, a Londoner in her 60s, was among them: “I’m here on behalf of older people who have worked all their lives and now can’t afford to heat their homes. For us it is the choice between eating or heating, which is no choice at all because the better you eat, the more chance you will remain healthy. It’s not just the cold that’s killing us, it’s the profiteer energy companies.”