So, we’re back here again this year with the NPC to mark the thousands of deaths suffered by people who can’t afford to heat their homes.
This year is worse — because cold damp homes and a rampant respiratory illness do not go well together.
And next year will probably be worse again, because the price of gas has soared and it’s still going up.
The people who pay the highest prices are the ones who have least to begin with, like people on PPMs. That has to change.
Millions of people are rationing every hour of heating.
Pensioners are staying in bed to keep warm, or going to bed early, getting ill from the cold, and in some cases dying lonely, miserable deaths.
This protest is not just to MARK these deaths.
It’s not just an annual ritual to say we won’t forget them. That would be important enough. But this demonstration is more than that. Because these thousands of deaths are totally avoidable.
The government says there is no money to save lives. Yet there is PLENTY of money.
I’m going to take a risk now — because it’s hard to take in any numbers in a speech.
It’s particularly hard when these numbers have loads of zeros on the end.
They count on us to not notice when they give out millions and take away billions — what’s the difference after all? Just some zeros!
But I’m going to take the risk of giving a few examples of where to look for the money we need.
This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. This scheme was so badly designed and managed that it collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced. The Treasury still has that money, which could still be used to insulate our homes, keeping us warm, bringing down our bills, and reducing carbon emissions at the same time.
Because of rising energy prices the UK Treasury could gain an extra £1bn in carbon tax, on top of £4bn they’ve already made this year. Plus another £100 million from VAT receipts due to rising energy prices.
Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of these extra high prices we are paying. On 4 November we wrote to Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, demanding a Windfall Tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.
A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — even with 50% tax avoidance!
It is worth looking closely at that £70 billion.
A few weeks ago, at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the international deal to mitigate climate change was nearly derailed because all the rich countries together refused to find $100 billion for poorer countries that are ravaged by floods and droughts and wildfires and famines — countries where people have done nothing at all to cause this catastrophe that is now threatening life all over the world.
$100 billion they could not find. Yet £70 billion pounds — £70 BILLION — is about the same as 100 billion dollars. That money could come from a wealth tax on just the richest 1%, in just one small country, the UK.
The world is being driven into a ditch and millions are going cold, or dying of heat stroke, or starving, to save pennies that would not even be noticed by billionaires in their yachts and private planes.
This country, even just the City of London, has plenty of money.
It is subsidising fossil fuels — those same fossil fuels that were supposed to be so cheap that we couldn’t afford to switch to renewable energy, those same fossil fuels that we now can’t afford.
It is going on wealthy individuals joyriding into space, even as we are all being told to cut down on carbon emissions.
Thirty UK millionaires are ASKING for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.”
And at the same time, Universal Credit is cut,
Disability benefits never got the uplift in the first place,
take home pay is hit by the NI tax,
and the government has “suspended” the pensions Triple Lock.
And our precious health service, that our lives depend on, is being sold off, dismantled, and starved of funds.
Medical and care staff are leaving in droves because pay and conditions are so bad.
Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold.
Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter.
Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, hungry, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death.
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are not inevitable. They are an obscenity.
They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages.
This cannot be allowed to stand.
Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action, 26 November 2021
Join Fuel Poverty Action and National Pensioners Convention: 26 November 12pm, George V’s statue, Old Palace Yard Westminster
As always at this time of year, FPA will be joining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”. Each year in the UK around 10,000 people die because they cannot afford to heat their homes. That figure is from before the pandemic and it’s likely to be still higher now: Covid and cold homes do not go well together. FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November to mark these tragic, desperate, and avoidable deaths.
We will demand action. There is no shortage of money to help us keep warm:
Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of the extra high prices we are paying. During COP26 FPA wrote to its President, Alok Sharma, demanding a windfall tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.
This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. But the National Audit Office found it was “botched” and collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced.
30 UK millionaires are asking for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.”
A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in the excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — a huge sum, around the same as the US$100 bn a year that all the rich nations together claimed they couldn’t find to support frontline countries to adapt to climate change!
Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold. Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter. Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death.
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages. This cannot be allowed to stand.
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday. Please bring banners and publicise the event so that we have a good attendance. If you can help with a portable sound system, please let us know!
Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street where a letter will be handed in.
Speakers include TUC President Sue Ferns, Lord Prem Sikka, and Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action.
We are run by a small team of volunteers. In January, we brought on Maddy Winters – a campaigner with a decade of cold home experience, for ten hours a week at £15/hour. This underpins everything our wider group does unpaid. We will use your donations to extend this employment.
We are in more demand than ever. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and up to 140,000 households are being added each day to the list of families forced to choose between heating and eating.
Promote our crowdfunder in your networks – share the link: crowdfunder.co.uk/fuelpovertyaction, retweet us, share our Facebook post, with your own endorsement or click the links below:
The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax free payment of £100 – £300 paid each autumn to people aged over 66. It is a life-saver for many pensioners who are struggling to keep warm. But some people who get it don’t feel they need it, and want to pass it on. If that’s you, there are loads of ways to do that through charities (on the web, see “donate winter fuel payment”) — or you could consider giving all or part of it to FPA’s crowdfunder!
IF, HOWEVER, YOU ARE STRUGGLING TO KEEP THE HEAT ON, HERE ARE SOME SOURCES OF ADVICE AND HELP:
You may qualify for fuel vouchers, through the Fuel Bank Foundation, CItizens Advice, your local authority or elsewhere.
The crisis you are in is not your fault. GET HELP!
Join us! Winter Deaths Protest on 26 November with FPA and National Pensioners Convention
As always at this time of year, FPA will be combining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”, and the thousands who die each year because they can’t afford to heat their homes. The statistics are less reliable than ever this year, in the time of Covid-19, but the number of deaths is bound to be even greater: imagine having Covid in a cold home! FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November. If you’d like to do more to mark this day, and to highlight the pain and suffering of cold homes, even for those who do not die from them, let us know!
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street
Please bring banners and try and publicise locally so that we have a good attendance. Speakers invited include Frances O’Grady TUC, Lord Prem Sikka and Ruth London Fuel Poverty Action.
For a whole decade we’ve been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing.
To celebrate this milestone, we got together on Zoom to share memories and play games. As well as look to the future. You can watch the event here.
Thank you to everyone who attended and made this such a special gathering.
Where is the money going?
The huge rise in energy prices this autumn follows on from a previous increase last April and there is another rise expected next spring. Millions of people do not know how in the world they will survive the winter, with household finances already stretched to breaking point and further cuts to benefits, pensions and public services. While the government has rowed back to a degree on the Universal Credit cut for people who are in waged work, the full £20 per week cut is in effect for mothers at home looking after young children, and people with coping with disabilities who cannot manage a waged job on top of that. (Both are working!)
Meanwhile oil companies have been making a killing in profits, and planning to invest their takings in dividends for shareholders and further investment in fossil fuel extraction, exploration and development — just as the world acknowledges that the climate is on a knife-edge, threatening everything we hold dear. FPA have been demanding resources for — quickly, safely, and accountably — making our homes energy efficient, and rebalancing the energy pricing system so that it is no longer those who have least, and who use least energy, who pay the highest price for what they need. That is now more urgent than ever.
In the middle of COP26 with two of our members up in Glasgow, FPA wrote to Alok Sharma demanding that the huge profits now being made by Big Oil should not be invested in shareholders pockets, or in further drilling for fossil fuels. Instead they should be used to relieve fuel poverty, and accomplish the urgent switch away from these unaffordable, unsustainable source of energy. We called for a swingeing windfall tax on the super-profits now rolling into the industry — and an end to subsidies from the public purse. According to the International Monetary Fund, governments spent $450bn in direct subsidies for the fossil fuel industry!
We have been on the news!
FPA has been called on continuously by the media and we have been happy to use this platform, ranging from the Financial Times and Women’s Hour, to small local papers, the Daily Express, the Mail, the Morning Star. We’ve had regular live appearances on Sky and other TV stations, were interviewed on LBC,and have reached further afield via Reuters, Bloomberg, and Euronews. We’ve done interviews with journalists and tv stations from France, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea as well as the UK and international agencies and publications like Reuters and Bloomberg. Another major part of our role has been helping to put journalists from the UK and round the world in touch with people in fuel poverty who want to speak out about their own situation and that of their families and neighbours, including FPA members like Diane.
We have been working with Insulate Britain and Action on Empty Homes
As well as publicly supporting the Insulate Britain campaign we have worked to make available to them the experience and perspectives accumulated in our 10 years of campaigning for insulation, emphasising the need for it to be safe, non-toxic, and non-flammable, for it to be installed in a way that is fully accountable to residents, and for the costs of insulation and of rising prices of fossil fuels to be borne by those responsible for climate change, not people struggling to pay their bills (contributions partly reflected in IB’s “Technical Summary“)
We have also highlighted the issue of insulation with the campaign against empty homes, with Ruth London speaking at Action on Empty Homes’ highly successful rally and day of action on 9 October, suggesting that owners of homes left empty should be required to undertake a deep retrofit — much easier while no one is living in the building! – and then make them available for residents of other homes being retrofitted with insulation and new heating systems to decant into while their homes are a building site. See below re another event coming up on 11 November.
Our many media appearances this autumn have helped call attention to the scandal of empty homes and the UK’s appallingly leaky, ill-repaired and poorly insulated housing.
We’re releasing a song! Can you help?
Calling all our supporters with links to the music industry – we need help releasing a Fuel Poverty themed single – written and recorded by one of our supporters! Can you help guide us to releasing a single? Get in touch on [email protected].
The Coalition has also been pressing for priority for people in fuel poverty in the EU’s “Renovation Wave”.
And it has been working out demands on energy pricing and taxes to relieve the devastating effects of rising gas prices while still not increasing state subsidies of fossil fuels. That last discussion in particular, FPA has played a major part in. It is ongoing. If you’d like to contribute to it, please let us know!
“If you’re a bit strapped for cash, you only need £345 plus VAT for a seat in the standard zone, a three-course dinner, half a bottle of wine, and a reception drink upon arrival. £4,495 plus VAT on the other hand will get you …a magnum of chilled champagne on arrival, followed by 10 bottles of beer, 5 bottles of premium wine, a three-course dinner, premium chocolates gifts on each place setting.“
Together with people from Peabody, Clarion, OHG and many other so-called social housing providers,who have been organising and winning in their fight for acceptable housing, we’ll have more fun in the street!
Poverty and climate campaigners at Fuel Poverty Action have written to Alok Sharma, President of COP26 calling for windfall taxes on oil companies’ huge profits, to be spent on relieving the plight of people in fuel poverty.
Research by Bloomberg News has exposed how “The Western world’s biggest oil companies likely just generated more cash than at any time since the Great Recession, and investors are about to find out what they’ll do with it.[…] Shareholders are now anxious to see whether the companies will return their windfalls via higher dividends or stock buybacks — or use them to produce more oil and gas.”1
Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) says2,
“Some people, profiting from the sale of these fuels, are choosing whether to channel their windfall into still further wealth for shareholders, or to invest it in still further production of CO2. Others face a different choice: whether to heat their homes or put food on the table.
In the UK, even before Covid, around 10,000 people died each year because they could not afford to keep warm. Millions of households are dreading this winter. In many countries, the poverty is still more acute, and the need is to keep cool as temperatures soar over 50 degrees C.”
“We are tired of the question: ‘Where is the money to come from?’ to insulate homes, bolster incomes, and transition to renewable energy and heating. Instead, it’s time to focus on ‘Where is our money going?’. Governments must commit to removing huge subsidies and windfall profits from oil corporations. As President of COP26 you should be seeking agreements that accomplish that goal.”
“In 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, governments spent $450bn in direct subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.3 This flow of public money must now be reversed. And the cash must be used to help relieve the energy crisis faced by people who are struggling to survive. In the UK and internationally, we need well-insulated housing, efficient heating and cooling, adequate incomes, and investment in energy which is both sustainable and affordable.
On Oct 1, half a million more households will be at risk of Fuel Poverty, having to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.
As the costs of fossil fuels soar this autumn, everyone is being hit by rising bills. Many are already desperate, and 1.5 million people have also been affected by their energy supplier going bust in the past few days. Meanwhile Universal Credit is to be cut. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and this will increase by another 500,000 households when the Price Cap is raised on 1st October.
For ten years, Fuel Poverty Action has been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing. We are a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. You can support the Coalition’s petition for urgent financial assistance to those affected by the energy price crisis alongside rapid roll-out of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis
Cold homes kill. Help us fight for affordable, sustainable energy.
We work with people organising to make their homes fit to live in – battling energy suppliers or landlords, fighting for their own, their families’ and neighbours’ survival. We insist that “affordable” and “sustainable” homes and energy are not incompatible goals, but two sides of a coin, and equally urgent.
You are warmly invited to Fuel Poverty Action’s 10th birthday party!
We are bringing members, friends and allies – both past and present – together on Thursday 30 September, 2021, to share stories, achievements, memories from the past, and hope for the future. We will also be launching our Crowdfunder to raise money to keep our part-time worker – Maddy.
As energy prices soar, endangering people’s health and even lives, FPA is needed now more than ever.
WHAT: Fuel Poverty Action’s 10th birthday celebration and Crowdfunder launch
WHEN: 10th Birthday Party 7pm, following our 6.30pm AGM
RSVP: If you are planning on joining, please RSVP to [email protected] with the email subject ‘registration FPA 10th birthday’.
Remarkably, ten years on from its formation in 2011, Fuel Poverty Action is still going, still equally devoted to both poverty elimination and climate goals, and determined to both acknowledge and find ways to overcome contradictions, or apparent contradictions, between the two. It is not common for small grassroots organisations without consistent funding, or support from academic, industry, or NGO institutions, to survive so long. When that happens, like in the case of FPA, it’s worth celebrating!
At the time of a gas crisis, coupled with the price cap being lifted on 1st October, let’s come together to share and reflect on what we have all been doing. We invite you all to come see the inside of what it’s like to campaign on fuel poverty, housing and climate change all together. Take a moment to remember, celebrate and commemorate with us; then gear up to bring this to the ongoing battle.
The final portion of the event will be the launch of our Crowdfunder! Fuel Poverty Action needs more resources to be able to meet the ever-growing demand for our time, accumulated experience and expertise. Help us make sure that we can continue to stand up for families affected by fuel poverty for another ten years by supporting our Crowdfunder launch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Fuel Poverty Action we are dealing with many situations of this kind where people are being left in the cold, or without hot water, again and again and sometimes for long periods. FPA are working with residents in several estates, but we are constantly being contacted by more, and we’re currently trying to work out the best way forward. In the meantime, some of the advice below may be useful to you. Please keep us posted!
It is hard to make progress because you have few legal rights. Legislation is due in 2022 but until then heat networks are unregulated, except for some limited legislation on metering and billing. And even when it comes in, it will not solve everything, especially as both heat providers and landlords often act as if they are simply above the law.
There are however some levers, and some success stories. We know of two places where residents have succeeded in getting their tariffs cut in half, one reported here, and for the other — watch this space! Heat networks CAN provide reliable and relatively sustainable heating, at a fair price, and no one should have to put up with the opposite!
Thehousing ombudsmancan and does take action on heat networks and complaint process failures. See their recent report on this here and the article in Inside Housing. In some situations you want the Energy Ombudsman instead, usually if your estate or development is a “registered participant” with the Heat Trust.
BEIS – the government’s department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is promoting and supporting heat networks. The Heat network team there knows a lot about the problems and are actively engaged in trying to get solutions. Do contact them directly at h[email protected] and copy in Fuel Poverty Action at [email protected]. They will help if they can, and will also use what information you provide to try to ensure that the legislation, when it finally comes out, is fit for purpose and takes account of the real problems you are having.
The Heat Trust. You can see if your estate belongs to this here (you need to scroll down). Not only the heat provider, but the particular heat network site needs to be part of this scheme for the Heat Trust Rules to apply. If your estate IS registered, then there are rules on compensation etc which are often ignored but can be enforced.
Naming and shaming. Some social landlords are concerned about their reputation (although many big housing associations now are just big developers who don’t seem to care about residents at all). Twitter campaigns can be effective as can media exposure (for a recent example see here; many other stories that don’t hit the national press, radio or tv, are regularly exposed by local papers. In London, the Standard is also worth trying. FPA gets requests for people who are ready to speak out about their situation (usually named, but sometimes it can be anonymous). If you’d like to be contacted for this, please let us know.
Some private companies, which includes many heat providers, are sensitive to their reputation for commercial reasons, and can also be approached through their shareholders.
Getting hold of any contracts between your landlord, the freeholder, management agents, heat providers, etc can be crucial — but not always easy to do! If a public body, like the council, is a party to any contracts they can be subject to Freedom of Information requests. If you’re launching a legal case, you can get hold of contracts. You can also look at what your landlord and heat provider says about themselves and commits to on their websites, and at how they promote your estate or development, and see if they are keeping to their image and their commitments. Compare and contrast!
Campaigning is always much more effective collectively. Do you have a tenants and residents association (TRA)? If not, in London you can contact London Tenants Federation for advice on how to form one. If you are in a Housing Association, you can also get help from SHAC. Many estates have both tenants and leaseholders; it is always useful to unite if you can, and at least work together if you can’t. The terms of heat agreements can be different for both, but you will be much stronger together, and each has some rights (eg to information) that the other doesn’t have. If forming a TRA is not possible at the moment, lots of people do very well with facebook groups – this can be a great beginning and may lead to a TRA which will have legal status and carry more weight.
Some MPs and councillors, and the council’s housing committee, will pick up your issues. They all should. They can sometimes get answers where you cannot, and can give your situation prominence. You can write to them directly and then copy them into all your correspondence with your landlord, estate managers, or heat providers.
There may be other local organisations that would be happy to help you put pressure on, where it is required. When lockdown ends, a little demonstration, for instance, could be effective in raising your profile. In the winter, FPA sometimes help organise “warm-ups” where people who can’t heat their own homes go into a public building or some relevant offices, speak out and keep warm there!
Obviously, if the council is your landlord, there are many other levers you can pull. Let us know and we’ll try to help you access them, and put you in touch with others who have been doing this, eg in Southwark.
The law. It is not an easy undertaking, but the Heat Trust website gives some information on rights for people on sites that are not registered with them, here. This gives useful links to Landlord and Tenant law, consumer law, rights to repair, and the Homes fit for Human Habitation Act. You may be dependent on some residents being eligible for legal aid. And even then, getting anything enforced is an uphill battle, but you know that! If you are considering taking legal action please let us know.
FPA’s website has a lot of information about high tariffs, standing charges, and frequent and/or prolonged outages of heat and hot water. For a good (terrible) example, see our report Not Fit for Purpose; for more examples and policy recommendations please see our various submissions to BEIS, the GLA, the CMA and others, here.
Please consider joining FPA’s network of active district heating residents — just drop us a line and we’ll put you on the mailing list, first off. You are welcome to use this list to keep us and others in a similar situation to yourself informed of your views and developments. Please also copy us into your correspondence with your landlord, heat provider, or estate management (preferably at the end of a thread, not as it goes along), but we will not necessarily be able to respond because…
FPA has NO FUNDING for this work, and in fact, currently, no funding at all. We are devoted volunteers but you can help make sure the work expands and continues by fundraising for us, joining Friends of FPA here, or just donating, here. You can also subscribe (free) to our newsletter and event notifications here.
Resources permitting, we are hoping to call a meeting of our District Heating users’ network in the spring, probably together with some people from BEIS. Do let us know if you’d like to be part of that, and if you’d be ready to help pull it together.
It’s been a long, hard winter, and we hope you’re all well. Here’s the latest news from FPA:
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.
A “heat network” works like central heating for a whole block, estate, or district.
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, Lambeth, where FPA was heavily involved in bringing heat provider E.ON toaccount, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.