- Centrica fund fracking company Cuadrilla, to the tune of around $16Mn last year alone
- Fracking funders Centrica own British Gas, who continue to raise their energy prices (£117 increase just announced this week), while cutting jobs, paying eye watering bonuses, and bullying people in their forced imposition of meters.
FPA’s Ruth London reports back from two EU meetings in Brussels, 11 February 2019
In January FPA received an invitation from the person coordinating energy work at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an official body representing Europe’s “organised civil society” inside the EU structures.
The Committee was holding a session on “energy close to the citizens”, and the European Anti-Poverty Network had pointed out that the planned discussion included big NGOs, but no one with their feet on the ground, “close to the citizens”. As a member of Europe’s Right to Energy Coalition, Fuel Poverty Action was put forward to bring the discussion down to earth.
We asked to speak about situations where we’d seen ”green” initiatives conflict with immediate needs. Kristian Krieger welcomed that focus on “tensions between theory and practice”, “where a green initiative has frictions with objectives linked to social/economic and political equality/empowerment of citizens.” That is, where people are fighting to ensure they can keep warm and pay their bills.
So we were glad to take part, and keen to hear what is being done in the dozens of other countries represented in that hall, where many have a record of trying to raise awareness of fuel poverty.
We were then invited to speak again at a smaller, less formal meeting of the Permanent Study Group, an internal energy think tank of the EESC.
FPA is a grassroots organisation, currently unfunded, and we’re not used to speaking in the chambers of power, with translation into up to 15 languages. But we brought a strong message from the UK.
Our points were received with respect and interest at the first session, where we gave examples of policies brought in for the sake of saving carbon, that ended up impacting users badly — and being so unaccountable that in the end, they are not even green. And where I spoke about pricing needing to be both affordable and fair, and how raising prices — hitting hardest those who can least afford it — is not an acceptable, or a viable way to bring about change. (That speech, with examples, is below.)
But it was in the second session that I felt FPA’s experience really made an impact. (also below) I told the story of District Heating in Myatts Field North, and how people had struggled for years to get it working. I referred to the long fight of Grenfell Tower residents to ensure that their building was not a tinderbox. And I said that in the midst of all the talk about “listening to citizens”, all the focus groups and “consultations”, people who are actively speaking out, shouting, screaming to be heard, and organizing are being systematically ignored, disempowered, disbanded, shut out of their community rooms, or threatened with eviction or the police.
Asked for “solutions” for the EU, I suggested what we have long been pressing in the UK: using funding as a lever, requiring a clean track record from any applicants for new projects, forcing them to clean up disasters they have created before coming back for more.
In response to the issue of energy prices, I also floated for the first time the idea of a “warm floor” — a certain minimum level of energy that should be available free, or at low cost, to every household, guaranteeing security during a time of transition.
Our “warm floor” proposal was welcomed (as it was, two days later, at Labour Energy Forum’s public meeting about a Green New Deal) and will be discussed further. But it was the issue of unaccountability that really struck home, in an assembly that is consulted in the process of developing policies, including those related to funding worth many millions of Euros. One representative spoke of his relief at the frank discussion; he said some projects he knew of ended up just making profits for criminals. Others identified a need to pay much more attention to “inspection and enforcement”, and how they should look to support not only projects but people’s “campaigns”.
And one Committee member later proposed that endorsement of FPA’s “Energy Bill of Rights”, as displayed on each member’s monitor throughout this debate, should be a condition for acceptance of new initiatives. I think the Energy Bill of Rights would need some adaptation but we’ve now been invited to actively pursue this proposal with the EESC.
Both sessions were a crucial learning experience for me, not least for the vision put forward at the start of the session, of a world of energy “prosumers” producing energy from small renewable sources, sharing it with neighbours and consuming it themselves. And also for the welcome acknowledgment that “you cannot fundamentally transform energy systems without the consumers and their taking ownership of the process.”
We were very warmly thanked by the EESC energy coordinator, who writes (his emphasis):
“Your intervention(s) were very much appreciated by TEN President Pierre Jean Coulon and the members of the TEN Section of the EESC. In fact, this has triggered among members a very strong interest in hearing more from the “sharp end of energy poverty” and campaigning organisations.” He promises to keep in touch “even though the 29 March may make things a lot more difficult at least for UK-based organisations such as yours.”
“Points of friction”
Speech for European Economic and Social Committee
Brussels 11 February 2019, morning
FPA is a small unfunded group working with people on the sharp end of fuel poverty, working to amplify their voices and their power.
In Europe, we’re part of the Right to Energy coalition. I want to thank you for inviting us, it’s great to be here with you all. We’ve been asked to talk about green initiatives clashing with social and economic goals. I only have time for a couple of examples.
District Heating – Heat Networks
In the UK DH is now being heavily promoted and subsidised by the government, because it’s supposed to be greener. I understand heat networks often work very well in Europe, and sometimes they do in the UK.
But on many housing estates, residents have had DH forced on them, in this case by environmental policy of the GLA.
On many estates the heating breaks down all the time, leaving people days or weeks without heat or hot water. And the prices can be horrendous. Exceptionally, residents on this one estate, run by Trafford Housing Trust, managed to get their prices cut in half.
But many other estates have to put up with being ripped off and sometimes paying capital costs as well.
A lot of residents feel they’re being asked to bear the cost of bringing in a new greener heating infrastructure for London. They don’t see why they should pay! I spoke recently to a Residents Association chairman on a DH estate. He said “you know, the local authority are worried about the CLIMATE!!” I said, “I’m worried about the climate too”. He said, “well so am I” and we both said — “but the heating has to work.” The problem here is that a green policy is being imposed, with no accountability, and no one listens to the people who have to use it.
And as a result, the network is so inefficient that it is not even green.
There are very similar issues with heat pumps and smart meters. I have no time to go into them.
2. My second example is insulation
For most of us insulation has always been the big Win Win – lower carbon, lower cost for residents. What’s not to like? After the Grenfell Tower fire insulation was removed from tower blocks because of the fire risk, and we started a campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now, because we were worried about people freezing. In the UK an average of 9-10,000 people die each winter [17,000 last year] because their homes are cold. Insulation matters. But. Every month the Grenfell community have a silent march to remember the dead, and then speeches by survivors and their neighbours.
And one time, I heard a speaker get up and warn everybody — “Watch out! They are trying to insulate homes in this area. Whatever you do, don’t let them insulate your home!” That was because the insulation was not only flammable but toxic. The whole area is toxic now, the schools, the playgrounds,wherever smoke went.
And many insulation materials and modern window materials are toxic even when they are not burnt, especially toxic to unborn babies. Also fitting insulation can block ventilation and leave homes damp, worse than before. There are victims’ groups, of people with insulation fitted badly. Again, the problem is incompetence, corruption, unaccountability, lack of regulation and inspection, and lack of CHOICE. Of course there are many people fighting FOR insulation – but they are being refused!
What counts is not just intention but the reality, not just policy but practice, and whether people have control.
This affects not only warmth but what people think of climate policies.
3. My third example is Carbon Taxes
I want to speak here not about the carbon price floor but about the so-called “green levies” on people’s energy bills levies that pay for ecological and social measures. The whole levy is only around 10% of energy bills and a lot of it has nothing to do with the environment. But the energy companies and the right wing media act like climate policies are the reason why people can’t afford heating. That is one of the fossil fuel industry’s LIES. It has made headway. Pensioners have told us that climate change is not real, it’s just a con to put up prices. The movement has been held back decades by that kind of lie. HOWEVER. for many people that 10% IS still a lot of money. People are going cold, and many are also hungry. There’s always an assurance that the government will “protect the vulnerable”. But that means means-testing, and many people, even the poorest, even disabled people who desperately need to keep warm, get excluded from the protection. And even middle class families can find it very hard to pay. Nobody is talking about protecting them.
I know carbon taxes have been the foundation of many countries’ green programmes, not only to raise money but to drive the transition to renewables and energy efficiency. And I know there have been some ideas on how to return the money to the people, different kinds of Energy Dividend, or how to make sure that everyone has access to a basic level of energy, and it’s the high users who pay more, not the low users paying more per unit, like at present. That is something I would really like to explore with you. But the Gilets Jaunes – the Yellow Vests – have forced everyone to look again at the whole strategy.
I saw M Hulot, ex environment minister in a debate with the Gilets Jaunes on French TV practically begging them, the climate crisis is so serious, we HAVE to have a price signal. But the Gilets Jaunes spokesman had two points. get real, we can’t afford it, he did not believe that carbon taxes would WORK.
The fact is, price increases, through tax or whatever, are inherently unjust. Some people can’t afford to drive to work, but other people fly a private jet. Some people can’t afford to heat one room, but others leave all the lights and heat on in a 10 room mansion, or an office block. It feels like AUSTERITY all over again — working class people being asked to pay for the bank crisis.
And people internationally are saying NO. Even when “protections” or dividends are there. People don’t see what good it will do for them to suffer when the really big polluters go free 71% of the world’s carbon emissions are caused by 100 corporations, 50% of emissions from consumption are caused by just 10% of people. The biggest culprits – energy, steel, agriculture, and aviation are often exempt from carbon taxes. The wealthiest people, and massive corporations have lots of ways to avoid paying tax.
In the UK the distrust of the government – ANY government – goes very, very deep. The transition we need will not happen without the wholehearted involvement of the population. That is very unlikely when there is such a credibility gap.
I know there have been many very good policies put forward in Europe, including efforts to involve and reward the public. But without accountability, and without much more action against the really big polluters, the most powerful interests, you will not get public engagement on the scale we need, if we are going to survive this century. In the meantime I have a lot more examples but out of time. (Later, for instance, I would love to discuss your experience of old rural buildings that cannot be made energy efficient and are off-grid, using oil – another point of contradiction between social goals and climate goals)
But now I will only say this — the words “just transition,” in English at least, usually refer to safeguarding jobs. But a genuinely just transition has to begin at home.
How can green policies be accountable?
Speech by Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action
EU energy think tank meeting, Brussels 11 Feb 2019 afternoon
*Please note this speech was slightly edited for clarity and context during and since the event*
Recap – Clashes and Carbon Tax
This morning I gave 3 examples of where there is a clash, or an apparent clash between green policies and economic and social justice. I spoke about where green policies are carried out very badly in practice, about heat networks — installed in the UK with no accountability, so the result is not even energy efficient. And about insulation being installed just as badly — flammable, toxic, or leads to damp. And then I spoke about a form of carbon tax, the “green levies” on our bills in Britain, and I said the levies are actually very small, but still hard for people to afford. And in general, I spoke about how people are rejecting paying any extra to fight climate change when the big polluters are being allowed to carry on doing much more damage.
UK Report – Poverty
I think almost everywhere in the world there is real poverty so even a very small extra cost on your bill really matters. Recently, the UK has changed. I know we’re not poorest in Europe let alone the rest of the world! But a lot of our housing is slums.A lot of people are begging. Asylum seekers are destitute. The new welfare system called UC has systematically targeted disabled people and single mothers. A lot of children are hungry, and millions are cold. And this is before Brexit!
UK Report – Climate
At the same time in the UK there is a big awakening about climate. Roads being blocked, schools strikes, like everywhere. There is Direct Action being taken against fracking and gas. 85% of public back renewables. 76% support onshore wind, which would be much cheaper than the really high cost nuclear energy they’re forcing us to pay for. But onshore wind has been banned by the government, and they’ve also cut support for household solar panels, community energy and insulation programmes. Instead they are forcing through so-called green initiatives that end up being profitable businesses but really bad for residents.
More examples of clash
Besides District Heating, a lot of people are having trouble with, Air pumps. Local Authorities put in lot of these Nibe heaters into social housing. They have good intentions. I think you have Nibe, Swedish company, bet it works in Sweden, but in UK disaster. In some places they are all having to be removed. Another eg: Smart meters – that show you your consumption in real time. These are being heavily pushed on people. People are worried about radiation, and worried about being disconnected remotely by radio signal if get into arrears. It’s absurd, many of the smart meters they’re putting in now won’t work if you switch supplier; there’s a new kind that will, but they won’t wait for that, there’s a great rush to put them in now to meet targets so they can be said to be doing something green. Meanwhile no one understands why smart meters are greener in the first place!
We’re all very suspicious. There is absolutely no trust.
Listening to people when they organise
I want to go back to what I ended with this morning – listening to people when they speak and when they organise.
Myatts field north
I want to tell a story, that I think has implications for EU funding (maybe not in the UK!) Remember the first slide I showed this morning of resistance on a south London housing estate. There are actually two estates, or one broken into two, called Myatts Field North and Myatts Field South. This all used to be served by an old District Heating system, run by the Local Authority, and paid for through rent, at a flat rate. Then Myatts Field North was regenerated, with new modern buildings, that are well insulated. And they created a big community centre with EU funding. It has exercise classes, a cafe, meeting rooms, and computers, etc. The front desk there is a contact point for problems on the estate and resident engagement. Ok, so, under pressure from an environment-conscious London Mayor, the borough imposed on Myatts Field North a new District Heating system run by E.ON. And the heating didn’t work, and the bills and customer service are horrendous. In fact one elderly gentleman, after going to that community centre front desk again and again about his energy bills, actually died in his cold home.
It hadn’t only been him trying to get heard. There is a very active Residents Association, you saw one of residents demos.
This is near Brixton, where there have been riots. It is a largely Black area, and the Residents Association was led by very active Black women, and they were very effective. So the Residents Association won status as a Monitoring Board for the whole project. And they fought like tigers, they got help from an academic, FPA got involved on the heating front. We had loads of meetings. We;
- organised deputations of residents to BEIS – the central government department that is promoting DH, and they listened very hard to the residents, for two hours,
- brought in Heat Trust – body supposed to represent the interests of DH customers,
- went to the GLA, the Greater London Authority, which had ordered the Heat Network in first place,
- documented everything in 100 page long report, Not Fit For Purpose, with the academic.
- and finally a whole load of residents, and FPA and the academic, went to a big meeting with the head of heat networks at E.ON.
In the end we did get some improvements – but only improvements. It is still a terrible system. And in the meantime, the Residents Association and its chair are worn out, exhausted. That matters. The formal procedures for accountability were there — Monitoring Board had regular meetings in the community hall with the LA and the estate management, to call them to account in front of the residents, who could speak, and did speak. But they ran into brick walls everywhere.
Myatts field south
Here’s the irony. At same time, Myatts Field South lost their beloved flat rate District Heating altogether. They fought for it. People refused to let builders into their flats to put in individual gas boilers. Those people were taken to court. So Myatts Field South fought for DH and lost it, Myatts Field North had it forced on them.
Listening – Organising
We hear a lot of talk about governments listening, reaching out, setting up focus groups. But when people are actually organising, the door is slammed in their face.
Same with Insulation
It’s the same with insulation and fire safety. You may know, Grenfell Action Group had been warning about this fire for years. One of the key recommendations of the Hackitt report into the Grenfell fire is that residents should have access to an independent body with enforcement powers so they can say what’s really going on.
Of course not everyone organises. But if there were some protection, some resources and empowerment for groups when they do come together, if there were more VICTORIES, more success, then a lot more engagement would spring up like magic.
Instead, routinely now Residents Asociations are being dissolved or decapitated or shut out of community rooms. There are threats of eviction. One suspended RA chairman had a letter from his Housing Association threatening to call the police on him because he’d been going door to door delivering a petition.
Same with Fracking
You can see the same thing in a completely different area, fracking protests.
Massive community organisation, with support of climate activists, has camped for years at the gates of fracking sites. Mobilised thousands of signatures to local authorities, and won – the local authorities came out against fracking. What happens? The government passed a law taking the decision out of their hands and saying central govt will decide on local planning decisions. Meantime people have been arrested, and assaulted, and jailed, for protesting against fracking.
I know there’s been a lot of recognition in Europe of the importance of citizen engagement in environmental policies. People are working hard on this. But I wonder if even here, you listen to people when on their own initiative they raise complaints and make demands?
Maybe you can think of mechanisms for accountability via EU funding. Our principle for local and national funding has always been, no company or agency should get funding or planning permission if they haven’t dealt with serious complaints about the schemes they’ve set up already. (a bit like disbarring sex offenders from working with children). I imagine this principle could apply to lots of fields – renewables,, even community energy. Could make a lot of difference to people having confidence in green policies.
I would really appreciate your comments on that, and in addition, I want to ask you another question — about pricing. In 2014 we issued our Energy Bill of Rights
Number 1: We all have the right to affordable energy to meet our basic needs.
Number 2: We all have the right to energy that does not harm us, the environment or the climate.
And then it says, We all have the right to a fair energy pricing system that does not penalise those who use less. Because with standing charges energy pricing is not only unaffordable but unfair. We pay more per unit if we use less. You might use less because you are trying to save the planet or it might be because you can’t afford it. Either way, you are penalised.
- Is that normal in EU?
- Is anyone making proposals to reverse this, so you pay a higher rate if you use more?
Is anyone putting forward a perspective of basic energy – a certain ration that everyone’s entitled to free of charge or for very little? This would provide security in a time of change, until the investment in renewable energy brings the ongoing cost of all energy down to very little.
We are actively considering this. You all are way ahead of us in working on these questions, and I am keen to know what you think.
In the coming months, we are building on previous campaigns, and starting some new ones, so we’re contacting people who got in touch with us for help or to help fight for changes.. In particular, we are looking for your experiences of British Gas, NIBE boilers, District Heating, and Cladding replacement, with a view to pressing for policy changes, and helping when things go wrong.
You can email us back, or post your testimony here.
You might also like to see our recent press coverage on prices, eg here in the Daily Express
On the other hand, if you would prefer not to hear from us again, please just let us know !
As you will know, FPA campaigns for energy that is both affordable and sustainable — that doesn’t harm local environments or the climate. On the 22nd February, we will be taking part in a public, family friendly demonstration against Centrica, the company that owns British Gas. They are one of the key companies investing in fracking in the UK. Fracking is facing determined opposition from the communities where it is planned, because of the local pollution (and earthquakes) and because it is awful for the climate..
Last year, while British Gas upped their prices by 5.5%, Centrica pumped nearly $16m into fracking. Fracking will not bring down energy bill prices. Instead, it will speed up global warming, at huge cost to us all.
This won’t be the first time we’ve taken issue with British Gas. In years past, we’ve been to their AGM, and written letters to their CEO, demanding compensation for the thousands of customers who have suffered extortion and bullying at the hands of the company. Complaints have included, amongst other things; forced imposition of prepayment key or card meters, price discrimination, and persistently pressing people for money that they do not owe.
So we’re inviting you to join us at the action on the 22nd. If you have any questions about the action, please get in touch.
But we are also looking to hear your stories about British Gas, past or current, so we can take them with us, and demand the changes we need. If you have experienced an injustice at the hands of British Gas, would you like to speak out about, in your name or anonymously?
NIBE heating is continuing to cause problems for people across the country. Many are told this new system will save residents money, but instead their bills are then three of four times higher than before.
We had some interest from BBC Rip Off Britain in covering this last autumn, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen in the end.
Have you struggled with NIBE Boilers, now or in the past? If you have, please let us know what the problems are, and also indicate whether you might like to speak out about this publicly, in your name, or anonymously.
Cladding and insulation
Despite winning cash from the government to cover replacement of dangerous cladding and insulation after Grenfell, too many people are still living in danger of fire. And many others have had their insulation removed — and are freezing! We are continuing to press the government, councils and housing associations to make sure everyone has compensation for extra high winter bills guaranteed – so all can survive this winter. Some places do have help, others don’t. It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery!
It would really help to hear an update on your building, or any in your area, including any buildings that are too low to qualify for refurbishment, or were clad with a material different from Grenfell’s – some other materials can still be a danger.
We’ve been told that our earlier campaigning, together with residents of seven housing estates with a heat network, has made a difference to how new “heat networks” are being brought in now – we certainly hope so! And the government has accepted the need for regulation. But many people are still suffering with expensive, dysfunctional systems that keep cutting out. And leaseholders are still being asked for tens of thousands of pounds upfront, to fund repairs or replacements of their systems. If that’s you, let us know! Policies are being laid down now, and it’s a very good time to put your case forward and get some results.
Whatever your situation – or if you’d just like to help, or take part in the action at British Gas headquarters on 22 February – please don’t hesitate to get in touch — we are really keen to hear from you.
Hi everyone, we’ve had some issues with our old website so this is a (premature) launch of this newer version. If there’s some information you can’t find on this site do get in touch and we’ll do our best to help. We’ll be working on the site this week to get it up to scratch.
Thanks for your patience!
Phil (FPA volunteer)
The end of November saw real progress on issues raised in our open letter demanding safe cladding and insulation now.
- One development affects those leaseholders who have until now been told they must pay themselves for their tower blocks to be re-clad – or continue to live in a fire trap. Through our open letter, delivered to the government on 17 October, 150 organisations, trade unions, MPs and experts demanded immediate replacement of flammable cladding for the homes of both tenants and leaseholders – without cost to the residents themselves.
We said, “For private housing, central government must cover the initial costs, and then seek to recover costs from landlords, developers and contractors.“
On 29 November James Brokenshire, Minister for Housing Communities and Local Government, announced that the government would finally provide cash to councils to carry out works on private blocks on the basis that they would have the powers to reclaim it. We have not seen the fine print and there are serious concerns about councils potentially being left to carry the cost from their depleted budgets, or costs being passed on to leaseholders through higher service charges. But if it means what it says, this is a major victory — 18 months late but a huge relief to many. Councils will have new powers to intervene to force re-cladding. The Green Quarter, Manchester, residents who were represented on 17 October have been told their cladding will be replaced.
- Meanwhile work continues on replacing combustible cladding and insulation on council and housing association tower blocks – the latest (November) statistics show 34 such buildings with works complete, and 82 with work started, out of 160 over 18M high with ACM cladding.
- And there is the beginning of movement on other dangers. There are many other kinds of combustible cladding and insulation besides the ACM panels used at Grenfell Tower, yet until now these have been ignored. Now the others are — at least — to be considered for safety assessments.
- On 22 November James Brokenshire replied to our Open Letter, and to points raised by residents when they delivered the letter to his office on 17 October. His reply, below, says, “I want to assure you that the Government is determined that residents should be safe and feel safe in their homes and is acting urgently and comprehensively to make sure this is the case.”
There is however a huge gap between this assurance and reality. Despite the progress detailed above, most demands in our Open Letter have not been met.
- The fire wardens and other measures flagged up in James Brokenshire’s reply are very far from keeping residents safe in buildings waiting for re-cladding. The private contractors responsible are frequently found to be failing: wardens may be too few, badly equipped, sleeping on the job, or just don’t walk the floors.
- Deaths from fuel poverty were up 40% last year, reaching a shocking 15,000. When cladding is removed, most residents are expected to pay themselves for the extra cost of heating an uninsulated flat, and very few are provided with safe space heaters, damp treatments, or offered the option of moving elsewhere if their home cannot be made habitable. Some social landlords are providing some support. FPA are working to establish standards, raising the issue with local authorities and housing associations, through the GLA and with the National Housing Federation. Finally, this issue is at least being recognised in the press. But nothing has been forthcoming from central government — no rules, and no money. In the context of cladding and insulation being off, James Brokenshire’s reference to building regulations’ energy efficiency requirements seems removed from reality. His proposal that residents in these blocks seek advice from the Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) suggests that a solution lies in residents investing in energy saving improvements to their flats. Energy efficiency is not possible in a high rise building from which insulation has been removed.
- Many people, like the Westminster housing association resident and the Salford residents who came to MHCLG will still have to wait many months or even years for their combustible materials to be removed and then replaced.
The ban on combustible materials, which will come in on 21 December, is also far from adequate. Among other things,
- It does not apply to existing buildings.
- Fire remains a serious risk in buildings under the arbitrary 18M height.
- Inspections under the HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System)Tests are “non-intrusive”, so cannot see beneath the skin, and are carried out by Environmental Health Officers with little knowledge of fire safety. Responsibility for further testing can be divided between freeholders and any leaseholders, and can be contracted out. The Fire Brigades Union says, “Fire authorities and local councils need to be fully funded to carry out fire safety inspections now and in the future.”
- Alterations can easily compromise compartmentation – eg changes to heating or electrical systems, or even a tenant or leaseholder fitting a satellite TV system, so no one can be sure that a system that was tested will remain safe.
- The cladding and insulation that are now being installed are not necessarily safe. The exposure of toxicity in the ground and water in a large area around Grenfell has highlighted an issue with far-reaching implications. Toxic fumes from permitted materials can kill in just 30 minutes. And even when they are NOT being burned, many current building materials have devastating effects on health, particularly but not only affecting unborn children. “Safe cladding and insulation” must be chemically safe as well.
Finally, James Brokenshire says “the Government is committed to delivering lasting change with residents having a much stronger voice in an improved system of fire safety.” The Social Housing Green Paper to which he refers does indeed “include options to address these concerns.” But it is hard to take these seriously while we see tenants and residents associations being routinely locked out of their communal rooms, or threatened by their social landlord when they attempt to petition or organise. The Salford residents who came with us to present the Open Letter have been among those being bullied this way. It was just that sort of treatment of residents that led to the Grenfell fire. We have seen no government proposals to deal with such disempowerment and intimidation.
The progress made shows that it is possible to win — but we are a very long way from safety. Here is James Brokenshire’s reply.
We will be in touch with next steps in the New Year.
Meantime, have a happy holiday!
For 18 months thousands of leaseholders in high rise buildings have lived in fear of fire, financial ruin, or both, as freeholders, developers and the government have debated who should pay for re-cladding buildings with Grenfell-style walls.
In October, FPA presented to the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government an open letter signed by nearly 150 representatives, including leaseholders, tenants, trade unions, and 28 MPs from four parties, demanding immediate replacement of flammable cladding for the homes of both tenants and leaseholders – without cost to the residents themselves.
We said, “For private housing, central government must cover the initial costs, and then seek to recover costs from landlords, developers and contractors. “
This week’s news that “the government will now provide cash to councils to carry out works on private blocks on the basis that they would have the powers to reclaim it” (Councils cleared to rip Grenfell-style cladding from private buildings“, Guardian, 29 November) appears to accede to that demand, and residents are – cautiously – hopeful. Beverley Reynolds-Logue, a Green Quarter, Manchester representative who was among the residents meeting the MHCLG with the Open Letter in October, says, “I think this is good news! Let’s hope they stick to their word. Thank you so much for involving our group in Green Quarter in all that you’ve done on this issue.”
But while insulation is off the buildings – in social or private housing – residents must not be left to freeze this winter. FPA’s Open Letter also demanded a guarantee that these residents living in buildings with cladding removed will not pay more for using extra energy to heat their homes, and will have access to extra provisions for warmth, including safe space heaters and damp and mould treatments. Where homes cannot be made fit for habitation, alternative local housing should be offered. The government must ensure that people affected by this disastrous failure of building regulations do not add to the thousands who, every winter, die because they cannot heat their homes — a death toll that leapt by 40% last winter.
On 22 November James Brokenshire wrote to us in response to our Open Letter, “. . . The Government expects landlords to protect residents, where possible, from any disruption caused by the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding and to communicate with them regularly during this process. That includes programming and sequencing their work, in consultation with residents, to ensure that people are not unduly exposed to cold”.
However there is no government policy to provide funds for this purpose, or to enforce legal standards for habitable homes. Winter is upon us. This cannot take another 18 months.
Sixteen months after the Grenfell fire, 50 people stood together in the the rain, outside of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), to deliver an Open Letter that demanded safe and warm tower block homes. The demonstration was organised by Fuel Poverty Action (FPA). Many of those who came, spoke out.
Speakers included residents living with Grenfell-style cladding, people from the Grenfell community, and supporters. The speeches covered a wide range of issues, including the plight of children at Grenfell, the needs of disabled people in high rise blocks, and the threat of climate change and associated extreme cold weather to residents whose insulation has been removed. The common thread of safe and warm homes tied it all together, and many, including the Fire Brigades Union, Unite Housing Workers and other major trade union bodies, pledged their support to the campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now (SCIN). This support lays bare the outrage felt because thousands are still living in tinderbox homes or homes that are freezing, mould-ridden and expensive to heat when winter comes.
When the speeches were through, the letter was unrolled. Now standing at nearly 150 signatories, which includes 28 MPs from four major political parties, 5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches, NUS, 5 councillors, 44 housing and Grenfell-related groups, 16 poverty and discrimination organisations, 15 environmental and anti-fracking groups and many others, the letter carried real weight. Three people living with Grenfell-style cladding and a member of FPA walked into the MHCLG to hand-deliver the letter. The group spoke with a civil servant from the department, who took down details of specific affected towers, listened to the grievances of the residents and promised that the letter would arrive on Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s desk that day. FPA are awaiting the promised swift response.
Following the hand-in, the demonstrators marched to the House of Commons and held a two hour long meeting, including Emma Dent Coad, the Grenfell MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Alison Stoecker, secretary to John McDonnell MP. Residents and MPs declared their commitment to the campaign and discussed how to – together – force action to ensure that residents are protected both from fire and from cold.
The last event of the Day of Action – 17th October – was a crowded tenants and residents meeting called by Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations. Held to highlight the lack of accountability in councils and the way tenants organisations are increasingly disempowered, beaten down, and deprived of resources when they try to campaign for better housing conditions, the event echoed some of the demands of the Open Letter. As the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell fire acknowledged, it is residents who hold the key to housing safety.
Whilst FPA and SCIN campaign supporters demonstrated in London, Right to Energy Coalition held a solidarity action outside of the British embassy in Brussels. Marking this as a transnational Day of Action and just one of many steps to achieve safe and warm tower block homes for all.
At our demonstration today outside the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government we’ll be handing in our letter to the Secretary of State, the wording of which has been signed by nearly 150 different organisations, MPs and councillors, including:
- 28 MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and SNP
- 5 Councillors
- 44 housing groups, residents associations and Grenfell related froups
- 16 poverty, discrimination and health organisations
- 5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches, and NUS