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!
- The housing ombudsman can 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 [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.