Guest blog: Lambeth Tenants Heat Campaign

Lambeth Town Hall

LAMBETH RESIDENTS FACE EVICTION WHEN WE CAN’T PAY ENERGY BILLS

As seen on BBC Morning Live, 15th December 2024

This guest blog has been prepared by tenants and residents of several Lambeth housing estates who have come together to form the Lambeth Tenants Heat Campaign, with support from Fuel Poverty Action and London Tenants Federation. More affected residents and other supportive organisations and individuals are now getting in touch.  

The blog includes the residents’ demands, background information, personal testimonies (anonymous and otherwise), statements of support, and their contact address.  They have written to Lambeth Council requesting an urgent meeting. 

Lambeth Tenants Heat Campaign can be contacted at [email protected]

Go here to read it.

Still from Morning Live report

Guest blog: Lambeth Tenants Heat Campaign

LAMBETH RESIDENTS FACE EVICTION WHEN WE CAN’T PAY ENERGY BILLS

Still image of interviewee from the BBC report
Still image of interviewee from the BBC report

Watch the BBC Morning Live report from 24th January 2024.

Is Lambeth council forcing tenants into homelessness by conflating energy costs with “rent”? Since April 2023 Lambeth council has threatened heat network users who can’t afford the 350% rise in their service charges with eviction. Both council tenants and leaseholders are affected by these increases, which can bring costs for heat and hot water alone to over £67 per week… in one case it totalled over £83!

We understand the falling price of gas may mean lower bills from this April, but they will still be too high for many of us to keep up with and we will already be in debt, struggling to catch up with our arrears. On top of this, for many of us, the heating and hot water system is constantly failing, leaving families and pensioners freezing cold. 

For the majority of renters, rent and energy bills are separate. The rising cost of living and the energy crisis have put many into fuel debt but in most cases householders are able to make adjustments like changing providers, using less energy, making homes more energy-efficient or getting a prepayment meter. For Lambeth residents on heat networks, there is no such recourse available. We have no control over the provider, no thermostat in many cases, and no discussion over the way our heat and hot water is paid for. 

The poorest residents who rely on financial assistance like housing benefit to meet increases in rent have found the service charges are not eligible for support, presenting them with no choice other than to sink into debt. Parents, especially single parents, and their children are suffering and going without necessities; vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities are being pressured to use their care allowance or PIP to pay the service charges. Those signposted to apply for discretionary housing and emergency support payments discovered that these payments – if obtained at all – did not cover the spiralling costs. 

Rather than recognise the issue, with an urgency to separate massively hiked energy prices from normal service charges, the council is erroneously and egregiously counting fuel debt as unpaid rent, wilfully setting us on the road to risking our homes. It is service charge abuse to allow this situation to persist. The council even made the callous suggestion to Lambeth residents that we should just leave if unable to pay the hikes. 

Even the disabled, the elderly, people with young children or other caring responsibilities are still receiving threatening letters. The council has not said what should happen if we are evicted. Where are we supposed to go? Will Lambeth rehouse us? And who will move into our vacated flats? Where will Lambeth find people eligible for council housing, who can afford these charges?  

Residents from affected estates like Roupell Park, China Walk, Cotton Gardens, Lambeth Towers and Macintosh Court are joining up and working together to challenge this grave injustice. Lambeth Council should not and will not be allowed to ride roughshod over the mental, physical and financial health and wellbeing of its residents. There has to be an acknowledgment from Lambeth Council that it has been grossly unfair in its approach and its methods, with the cessation of eviction threats as a start.     

OUR DEMANDS

  • Stop the threats of eviction

Lambeth Council has been quietly harassing its most vulnerable residents by sending out notices of seeking possession based on tenants inability to keep up with 353% increase in heating & hot water bill. Some tenants have been told that the evictions won’t be pursued. But as the council refuses to confirm or deny this statement in writing, residents have been left in limbo: we cannot count on this and even the threat destroys our mental health. and presses people to pay what they can’t afford by cutting down on other essentials or going into expensive debt. At least one tenant has now had a red letter notice saying “Case in court for possession…”

  • Stop saying ‘rent arrears’

Inability to pay heating bills should not be deemed as rent arrears. Renters not on heat networks don’t have their heating and hot water as part of their rent. When their energy costs increase, they aren’t threatened with eviction due to their gas or electric company charging more. Why should those on heat networks  face eviction? Rent increases are capped, so if heat charges are part of rent how can they shoot up over 350%? And how can heat charges be counted as rent when we can’t receive Housing Benefit for them? 

  • Stop setting heat prices as if Lambeth weren’t going to get a discount on the gas purchased annually to burn for our heating  

Like households with private boilers, heat suppliers are also entitled to government help to deal with the huge increase in gas prices. We understand Lambeth has applied for this discount but hasn’t yet received it. Yet our charges have been set as if the discount doesn’t exist. And then we’re being threatened with eviction if we can’t pay them! 

  • Stop fleecing tenants for your mistakes

In the financial year (FY) 22/23 Lambeth underpaid for communal heating – that is Lambeth officers’ administrative error. In the FY 23/24, Lambeth TRIPLED  bills to cover Lambeth’s mistakes! They decided to recover their losses in ONE YEAR at a time when gas prices are at an all time high!

  • Recover costs over 10 years not one year, or not at all

Lambeth should engage with tenant representatives and discuss how best to recover 22/23 underpayment due to their error and ease the burden on tenants

Reimburse tenants for the costs they have unfairly incurred and compensate for the stress and anxiety heaped onto them

Some  have been forced into debt and others have gone without food and faced other hardships. There should be compensation for the anguish caused to residents by this nightmare.

  • Immediate repairs and optimisation of inefficient heating systems
    There is government money available for this.  Residents are not responsible for dysfunctional and dilapidated infrastructure which often breaks down, and should not be picking up the tab for it.
  • Metering will not fix our heat network problems
    Some estates are set to have meters installed instead of a flat rate charge for all residents. This is not the priority for addressing heat network issues. It could enable us to save a little money if we “choose” to freeze instead of heating our homes, but not much – a large part of the bill will be a standing charge that you can’t avoid even if you go without heat and hot water entirely. 
  • Immediate repairs and refurbishment to draughty, poorly insulated and sometimes damp homes that cost a fortune to heat and can never be kept warm.
  • Expansion of the use of solar panels, wind and other renewable options for reducing the use of expensive fossil-fuelled energy. 
  • Transparent billing information

Our landlord fails to provide us, its tenants, with a complete breakdown of costs. We need to know what we are paying for and why. To that end, external oversight of Lambeth’s heat charges must be sought to ensure calculations are correct and transparent.

  • The council must compensate residents when communal heating/hot water services to a block break down – the rebate should duly be added to resident accounts after interruption to supply is noted. We should not have to scurry and hassle to obtain our just compensation.
  • The council must also keep accurate records regarding the function of heating and hot water supplies. We ask that a transparent and straightforward protocol be adopted to compensate residents when communal heating/hot water services break down
  • The heating systems must urgently be made fit for purpose so this does not happen again and again. It is adding further insult to injury when hot water/heating is not available and the council continues to charge exorbitantly without providing an actual service. There are several words for charging for a service without delivering it, including ‘theft’.

HOW THIS AFFECTS US 

The following testimonies have been kindly and bravely shared by Lambeth residents impacted by the service charge hikes

Testimonial – AH, lone parent Wedgwood House

I am a single mother to a teenage boy as well as a carer for my elderly mother and in receipt of benefits. 

My rent is paid by housing benefit, so my arrears are solely on service charges.

I have spoken to the Lambeth rents team on countless occasions. I even attended a meeting with them to discuss this issue. We were told that Lambeth was trying to recoup two years worth of deficit, which is why there was such an increase in these charges. However if we were to pay what we could and not be negligent then we did not have to worry too much because they understood how these charges impacted on low income households. But so far I have received two threatening letters from Lambeth seeking repossession/action to take me to court.

This has majorly impacted on my physical and psychological well-being. I worry this is going to affect my son’s GCSEs because he worries that I’m not eating/sleeping. I have also sought out medical help from my GP. 

I’m really at a crossroads on what to do next. It’s a spiral of an accumulation of arrears. No matter what I pay, my arrears still go up. 

Living under the umbrella of the threat of homelessness is not easy…

Testimonial – Lone parent, Roupell Park Estate, Lambeth

I am a lone parent of a little boy. I live on Roupell Park estate, living here since 2016. I can’t work that much as I am a sole carer of my son. I can’t make enough money.

When I saw the increase I thought if I update with the housing benefit department they would increase the benefit payment. A few months later in June, I received a letter saying that I was in arrears for my rent, around £600. I didn’t have that kind of money to pay it off. I’ve had to borrow money from friends. I still owe them. 

It’s been a few months of a proper depression. I didn’t even contact Lambeth Talking Therapies (IAPT) because I know if I am not suicidal or anything for them to consider risk of serious harm, then I wasn’t going to get an appointment 

My son suffered seeing me in that state. He is eight years old and he is already realising that we don’t have money because I’ve had to stop buying certain things and can’t afford his after-school clubs anymore. 

I am in receipt of working tax credit, yet we spend everything on bills and food and there is nothing else left. I think those charges are just too much. I live in my flat alone with my son. We are not using that much heating and hot water. In October I stayed at my friend’s house in Brixton, he’s got separate meters just for his flat, and using hot water and heating for ten days nonstop, we only paid about (I checked the meters) £17 for ten days. And we (heating network users) pay £50 weekly, seven days.

I’ve never been in that situation in my life, that I have to really calculate what I’m buying to eat. Before it was things like buying things for my son, going out and eating out. I could forget about that. But even groceries? 

I know that lots of other people are affected as well, that’s what my housing officer told me, that he knows there are many people in the same situation on the estate. Nobody consulted us personally, nobody warned us. It just came like that and nobody conceded that most of us, especially a single parent household, don’t use that much energy and we shouldn’t be charged so much.

Testimonial – Lone parent, Wedgwood House

When I received my rent increase letter from the council I was shocked and very anxious. I couldn’t believe that they were putting up the heating, alone by £300 – which works out 306% in percentages. I couldn’t understand how this has been worked out. 

I get help from universal credit as my wage isn’t enough per month, but universal credit does not help towards your heating bills.   

Looking at my outgoings the only possible place to cut down from is food. I’m no longer able to buy fresh produce. I skip breakfast everyday and on occasions lunch too. I provide my son with all three meals a day, I come after him. The fact that we’re in a cost of living crisis, food has also risen ridiculously. 

I often walk to work, to try and save on travel, which with my varicose veins and an ongoing foot problem, really isn’t ideal for my health. I can no longer buy any new clothes/toys; anything we wear is very much second-hand, from friends or family.  

I spoke with a gentleman (councillor/council officer?) with a few other residents at the beginning of April 2023. He took our details and said he would get our questions answered. He emailed me on 19/04/2023 to inform me that he was still looking into our concerns but sadly I’m still yet to hear anything from him.

I’m now stuck in a cycle of having to regularly use my credit card for food purchases as I simply don’t have enough money to last me a month as my outgoings are more than my income.  

Testimonial – Parent of child with disabilities, Roupell Park Estate, Lambeth.

I have lived in Lambeth at the same address for 20 odd years..

When I first read the letter I did not sleep very well at all because it was so shocking. At the time that I read the £50 increase I thought it was somehow me misreading it. I thought it was £50 extra a month. It wasn’t until I reread the letter that I then found out that it was a weekly charge – an extra £200-£250 a month.

My days, that was like a nail in the coffin for me. I’ve had to reduce how much food shopping I buy and how often I shop. For the first time ever, I had to be watching every penny that I spent. I mean it was very difficult not being able to afford buying clothes for the kids. You know, not being able to – and I work – to do just normal things. Being a Christian, my faith has really helped me through it. I found ways to cut back on every single thing but after paying the bills there’s hardly anything left.

My son has ADHD so I was able to apply for the disability living allowance. It took about five months to come through. It wasn’t until that came through that life got a little bit better and more bearable. Now I’m able to at least buy the children some clothes, buy just a little bit more food…

Testimonial – Lone parent Roupell Park

I am a council tenant and single parent with a primary school age child. We have

been informed at very short notice that our service charge has increased over 300%. It is four times what it was in March and I can’t keep up. 

In some ways it would be preferable if the only thing being threatened is being cut off but if I can’t pay this I think the plan is for me and my child to be evicted.

Overnight, I have gone into severe rent arrears and there seems to be no recourse to

appeal. Low income tenants cannot get help e.g. from housing benefit because service charge is treated differently to rent burden. What on earth can I do? I have cut back to almost nothing but there is a limit to what you can cut back with a child without causing serious neglect of their needs. What help is there for us?

Testimonial – Sarah Bone, lone parent, Wedgwood House 

I have been thinking about asking my GP to refer me to start using food banks, as soon I won’t be able to keep up with these payments… I would really like Lambeth to reconsider how they think what they are charging us for heating alone is acceptable and justifiable. 

The hot water system is shocking, my hot water in the kitchen goes on and off constantly every time I wash up, I have to wait every so often for the hot to become hot again to finish washing a sink’s worth of dishes.  

The bath I have to keep an eye on as this goes from hot to lukewarm constantly and I end up with a cold bath even when just using the hot tap to make one. 

Testimonial – Tamara Lyn-Grant, mother of three, Wedgwood House 

I have always strived to fulfil my responsibility of paying rent on time. However, this latest increase has forced me to reassess my already constrained budget, leaving me with limited resources to cover essential expenses such as utilities, groceries, and other necessities especially with three children to feed and clothe.

The ripple effect of this financial distress has impacted every aspect of my life, causing a considerable amount of emotional dis and uncertainty about the future.

PLEASE SUPPORT US

  • Ruth London of Fuel Poverty Action says:  

It’s been a hard year for everyone, with energy bills at an all time high, but Lambeth’s increased charges are even worse. And it is not normal for anyone, even on other heat networks, to be threatened with eviction when they can’t pay heat bills. What are they supposed to do, when the charges are simply unpayable? It’s almost unbelievable that a council like Lambeth could do this to its residents. The tenants and leaseholders can only fight to end this cruel injustice.  

Heat networks can be greener and more affordable than gas boilers. They are not supposed to be a disaster like this. We fully support the Lambeth tenants and we hope everyone who cares about warm, safe, affordable and sustainable housing will support them too, including Lambeth officers and councillors!  

  • London Tenants Federation says: 

Lambeth, like all London councils, finds itself in a position not of its choosing; having to deal with an energy crisis that is crippling. To decide to pass on the iniquitous nature of district heating charges, to the most vulnerable and least able to pay in many instances, is atrocious. Given the fact that the housing Ombudsman has taken special interest in the level of complaints and the service provided by Lambeth, it seems folly for the council to proceed in the callous and high-handed manner they have taken to date.

LTF supports the actions taken by Lambeth tenants and urges the council to meet the demands of the tenants, caught in the crosshairs of an under-regulated part of the energy sector and beholden to the council/industry monopoly for their energy supply. Tenants aren’t able to choose who supplies them with energy, that is a decision Lambeth makes. Mistakes made are not tenants’ mistakes, they are Lambeth council mistakes.

 As a social landlord Lambeth should not be forcing tenants to choose between a warm home, food or homelessness and the mental distress that ensues.

  • A debt adviser for a local independent advice centre says: 

I have seen a vast number of Lambeth tenants affected by the 353% increase in ineligible service charges since April 2023. This is a very serious issue with no obvious remedy; tenants are unable to claim a discretionary housing payment for the increase as a DHP does not cover ‘ineligible service charges’. I and my colleagues work hard to make sure that tenants are getting any benefits they are entitled to, and any discounts/income maximisation. However the rise in service charges is beyond anything I have ever seen before, and it is not realistic for any of the tenants I have seen to be able to pay for the increase, which in some cases is as much as £65 a week. I am concerned that people are being pushed into unmanageable debt and poverty by the enormous increase, and feel powerless to help. It is certainly the most challenging issue I have seen clients face in my six years as a debt adviser here.

SOME BACKGROUND ON HEAT NETWORKS

For more about Heat Networks see here. For detailed reports about a previous issue over heat networks in Lambeth, see here.

Heat networks – often loosely referred to as “district heating” – are like central heating for a whole block of flats, a whole estate and sometimes a whole area. Heat is produced centrally and distributed as hot water, through pipes. 

Heat networks are promoted by the government as “green” because they can be converted to use heat pumps instead of expensive gas. They can work well. But when they work badly they cost the earth, using even more gas than individual boilers. 

Residents are trapped in a monopoly without legal protections or rights and are suffering a huge injustice compared to people with other kinds of heating provision. 

  • We cannot switch to another heating system or another supplier and cannot even cut down our costs by not using heat or hot water. 
  • Except for metering and billing there are no regulations governing this industry. Though legislation is now pending it is likely to take years to come into force. 
  • There are no price caps for residents. The government’s energy support plan in 2022 covered almost all households except those on communal heating (heat networks), which they deemed to be commercial businesses. In 2023 the government accepted we should also benefit from government discounts like other households. But the discounts have to be applied for and they go to the heat provider. Experience in Lambeth shows that the end user may get no help when it is needed.  

CONTACT US AT: 

[email protected]

#EnergyForAll Petition

Diane Skidmore 

Sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/energyforall-everyone-has-a-right-to-the-energy-needed-for-heating-cooking-and-light

UPDATE (October 2022): Latest information backing our Energy For All Campaign.

The petition for Energy For All and its hundreds of thousands of signatures have made waves in the UK, shaking assumptions about what is needed and what is possible. Since we issued the call in February, the background information has changed. 

The 54% increase in energy prices came in on 1 April – with an even bigger rise expected in October. Groups and people across the UK mobilizing and pledging to take action in response brought a halt to what could have been the most disastrous energy price rise in our lifetimes.

The Energy Price Guarantee, capped the unit price of energy at twice what it was last winter and was expected to cost up to £150bn in taxpayer’s money to the energy sector – now the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has stated this will be reviewed in April. Should this cap be lifted, the average household could pay around £4300 a year towards energy bills.

Increasingly, people are recognising that a price freeze or one-off windfall tax does not deliver the security that consumers need. Having seen our petition, a cross-party group of MPs has now opened up discussion within parliament on Energy For All, beginning with an Early Day Motion proposing a ‘Universal basic energy allowance’. You can email your MP asking them to sign!

The need to reverse the huge injustice of energy pricing remains as strong as ever. 

The petition has brought this issue onto the agenda.  Energy For All, as defined below, is as up-to-date and relevant as ever – a stepping stone away from inequality, and towards a more caring way of life. Join the next stages of the campaign to help make this demand a reality!   

#EnergyForAll Petition- Everyone has a right to the energy needed for heating, cooking, and light (original post, February 2022)

Energy bills have risen dramatically in the last year – and the price cap is now to increase by 54% in April. This rise will leave millions of people like me struggling with cold homes. Many of us are facing damp, ill health, darkness, hunger and misery. Before the pandemic and the price increase around 10,000 people died each winter in the UK’s cold homes. Now even more will die.  

I’m a pensioner living on a council estate in south London, and even before the recent price increases it was a struggle for me and my neighbours to keep warm. I am asthmatic, and many of us have health problems, as well as problems with our housing conditions. My grandchildren don’t even visit me because my house is too cold. I’ve been working with Fuel Poverty Action for more than ten years now. There are too many people who cannot afford or struggle to keep warm.

To end this outrage, Fuel Poverty Action is calling for #EnergyForAll.

#EnergyForAll means giving everyone a free amount of energy – that is enough energy, free, to cover the basics like heating, cooking, and lighting – to give us all the security we need, taking account of people’s actual needs related to their age, health, and housing. To pay for this new pricing system, Energy for All, we’re urging the Government to introduce a Windfall Tax on the profits of oil and gas producers, traders and suppliers, and to STOP  subsidising fossil fuels with millions of pounds every day. 

The UK is a wealthy nation, with many billionaires – now more than ever due to fortunes made in the pandemic. Many companies, including energy companies, are clocking up exceptional profits – while we struggle to pay the prices they are charging.  

No one should get ill or die because of cold homes. No one should spend days in libraries or shopping centres to keep warm. Every home should be well repaired and insulated so we don’t need so much energy in the first place. We need your help to stop the outrage of fuel poverty – please sign and share this petition!

The government says we will get £200 back – but that will be a loan which we’ll have to repay in future bills. I have no idea where that money will come from in the future. They also say most people will get an extra £150 – very welcome, but far from enough.  From April, many will see an increase of around £700 per year – more if your home is poorly insulated, or if you are on a prepayment meter, like many people on low incomes. 

Instead of filling the pockets of fossil fuel companies, taxpayers money should be used to make sure everyone can keep warm. And the pricing system should be fair. 

At present, we pay more per unit of gas or electricity if we use less of it. At present, we pay a high standing charge even when we use very little energy, or none at all.   Our new pricing system, Energy for All,  would eliminate that injustice and turn pricing right side up. 

Please join my campaign to ensure we get #EnergyForAll. 

In April 2022, Diane Skidmore, who started our #EnergyForAll petition, was interviewed by Rob Rinder on Talk TV about rising energy bills, watch below:

Note: “e4a: Energy for All” is a proposal for a new pricing structure for energy, and is entirely distinct from energy4all.co.uk which supports community renewable energy projects. Fuel Poverty Action also strongly supports the aims and cooperative initiatives of Energy4All. 

We need a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies profiting from fuel poor consumers

Isabel Davies

The gas crisis is bringing misery and death to people already struggling to survive this winter.

It is the result of the government and Ofgem failing to take basic precautions for when international gas prices rise: 

  • they allowed gas storage units to close; 
  • failed to invest in meaningful energy efficiency programs; 
  • and left privatised retailers to expose consumers to volatile wholesale prices without buying in advance. 

We know that UK consumers cannot afford to pay energy companies more money for these mistakes. The money must come from those benefiting from the crisis.

In October we proposed a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel extractors. We argued that some part of the $65 billion they made between July and October must not be spent re-investing in fossil fuel exploration, development and extraction, which will further accelerate the climate crisis. Instead, a proportion of the excessive profits must be spent helping consumers keep warm and put food on the table. 

Analysts now forecast that the average energy bill will rise almost 50%, to about £1865, this April. National Energy Action estimates this will push another 2 million people into fuel poverty, while of course creating further pain for the 4 million people already unable to pay their bills.

Across the industry, experts such as retail chief executives, former energy ministers and belatedly the labour party are now joining us in calling the government to announce a windfall tax before consumer prices rise in April. 

We demand again that the windfall revenues from the international gas crisis are spent on helping people stay warm this winter. To ensure the poorest are reached:

  • This should be via a flat payment to each household and not means tested. 
  • The money should not be spent on funding reduced bills through VAT removal, which would disproportionately benefit the richest consumers.

Storm Arwen – Residents ask ‘Why can’t we get the compensation we are entitled to NOW?’

On 26 November Storm Arwen hit the UK, and lights went out all over north east England, northern Ireland, and Scotland  Over a million homes were affected. Not only light but heat, leaving many households in isolated, windswept rural areas in a desperate situation. 

While old stone cottages in North East England are primarily heated by oil or coal, electricity is required to run the systems, and sometimes to pump and filter drinking water. Insulation is generally poor, and the cold is extreme. Yet action has been slow. Over a week after the outage began, several thousand homes were still without power, and now, nearly two weeks later, there are still some homes without power, even as Storm Barra sweeps in, causing yet further outages.

FPA has been in touch with one active local resident in Northumberland for several years, grappling with the thorny question of how such homes can be affordably, and sustainably, kept warm. In this crisis he turned to us again, and we worked to help ensure people were able to get temporary power supply from generators. We have now sent the following letter to Jonathan Brearley, CEO of Ofgem, attaching compelling evidence of the urgent need for compensation to be released immediately and in cash. For a brief verbal recording of the argument for this, listen here.

Dear Jonathan Brearley, 

Thank you for your prompt action on the issue of generators. The assurances we received from Northern Powergrid on this issue did not accord with what we heard from people on the ground, but we understand that everyone is -- or at least soon will be -- back on the grid so the generators are no longer an issue, at least at this time. What is, however, urgent is the way in which guaranteed service payments are to be made to affected households, and particularly the timing of these payments.  

What will Ofgem do to ensure that people are not left desperately short of money over Christmas, or even longer, and that they are not forced to carry huge debts on behalf of their power supplier? 

I attach Charles Palmer’s evidence of just how people are suffering financially, in the absence of compensation more such stories are pouring in all the time. This is followed by his explanation of why every affected household should be advanced a portion of the compensation they are entitled to, and why this should happen now.

We’ll look forward to hearing from you.  

Ruth London

Responses from residents online

The below are the comments our local contact collected from a single community Facebook Group, Hexham Matters in the space of two hours on 7 December. There are dozens of similar groups. Some of the people worst affected are not on the internet or social media. But evidence is pouring in of how badly people are being affected. There are more responses every hour. Names here have been changed.

Tim:  Not so much of a hardship story, but still mighty frustrating. Power went out, braced it with ice on the windows for two night before booking myself and family into a local hotel (separate rooms and an “extra night” due to me working nights)

All the usual, lost all our month’s food bought the day before the power cut, all the store bought food over the last 10 days that we never knew we’d be able to claim for so didn’t keep any forms of receipts until two days ago.

No contact at all even after requested by local MP due to health condition. Hours wasted trying to ring their help line to get the same script as others. 3 different engineers turned up over the last 11 days. All three said they had no idea there was no power (ne20) even though there was at least 4 reports by the morning of the 27th. Outage map changing both the expected fix AND the reported on date (I have screenshots, so do other affected neighbours)

Oh, and Northern Powergrid almost got my Facebook account banned for spam for commenting on an update post saying we’ve had no updates 🤦‍♂️ (update to that, they removed every comment and reply I tried to make about their lack of contact 😒 got time to play on Facebook but no time to actually contact people) 

Thankfully power restored about 10am yesterday (not that I knew until I was at work at 5pm so had to pay an extra hotel night)

Biggest problem for me right now as someone how does their Christmas shopping in December… I’ve blown my entire paycheck for this month and dug out over half of the Christmas fund… Unless we get our refunds before the 22nd and amazon prime hasn’t cancelled my membership… No Christmas for us! Hand written cards and drawings under a snapped branch from the local fallen tree… Doing absolute wonders for my depression and anxiety, knowing after saving hard all this year I can barely bring any Christmas cheer 👍

Linda: “This was exactly my comments to them why would we get receipts we didn’t know they would refund when I ordered an emergency extra load of coal and rushed to costa to but hot drinks and toasties for my disabled son and 86 yr old mother my first thought was getting hot food/drinks into them and keeping as warm as possible.”

Sandra: “A few of us in our village had a problem in that once the power came on, the motors on the central heating burnt out meaning an extra 5 days without heat. Between power off and power on, heating systems broke down. We will be getting invoices for heating engineers and plumbers – took 3 visits.”

Alice: “I live in Ridsdale,  had no power for 8 days along withrest of village . I’m lucky, I own a cafe in Hexham so ate there most nights. Obviously  no receipts but as a family of 5 we used up stock from the business. How do we claim/prove that?”

Sylvia: “All well and good saying that now, however we were unable to access any information for 6 days so have no receipts 🤔

Rebecca: We are a family of 4, power went off the Friday night of storm we had nothing until we got generators finally yesterday. Electricity still off now so Wi-fi is so I can’t work. 

Our nearest family is 20 miles away so have been travelling back and forward for meals and warmth and to use Wi-fi. I work from home so internet was a necessity. Fuel we are using is getting ridiculous as husband works where we live so he needed to be here. 

Kept getting calls saying would be on next day so didn’t see urgency at first and obviously didn’t know about receipts. 

We have an autistic son and it has been incredibly unsettling for him and us. He was so upset when we got back Sunday to another dark and cold house he hates the house and wants to move (which we are going to now but that’s another issue with landlord not helping anyone either) 

Our neighbour has had a stroke and is disabled and dependant on bed and chair and his wife has been besides herself. We all had no signal for ages so I was trying to get away from the house and ring whenever I could but advice I got from phone line was she would have to ring 999. 

Liz: “Hi regarding your post about lack of power I’ve now been without power since the storm apparently due back on today fingers crossed so been without power heating or water for 10 days . No communication from power for first week and I had to ring them as I’m a frontline nurse and needed uniforms washed etc I’ve had to fork out over 500 pounds to keep my family safe warm and hydrated and now worrying how I’m going to afford Christmas food let alone presents .”

JT: “Just a reply to your post . Where to start .

A used nearly a month of logs in a week . I had to throw away a full freezer of food away . As well as 2 fridges full . Paid for 2 nights. In a hotel on the coldest nights . As it was -4 in my house . Paid for petrol to take my disabled children to South Yorkshire to stay with family as it was just 2 cold in house . Paid petrol their And petrol back as there was nowhere for me to stay . I lost all our tropical fish as the water in the tank froze . We never heard a thing from northern power or council . And as I’m a full time carer for my children I’m on benefits. So money was tight before this . But now I’m stressed as lets face it if it takes as long to be compensated as it did to get the power back it will be spring before we get any 

[Mr Palmer notes: -Tim is not the only person who saw his Facebook comments curtailed or banned from commenting. I also experienced this]

Compensation needed now, in cash

It is customers’ statutory right to be compensated during power outages.  The maximum amount legally required for this Guaranteed Standards payment is £700, but Northern Powergrid have agreed to waive that ceiling in the light of the long delay in restoring power after Storm Arwen.  The problem is that the compensation IS NOT AVAILABLE NOW, and even when it arrives, it is normally paid in the form of a credit on electric bills, NOT IN THE FORM OF CASH that can be used for day to day survival.  

Since statutory compensation is due to us by law, why cannot at least a portion of it — eg £500 per household — be made available now, in cash, so people can get through December?

In addition to the Guaranteed Standards Payment, Northern Powergem have also agreed to help with the cost of food, water, accommodation, kennels for pets, solid fuel, gas fuel, gas heaters, generator hire, and laundry.  They say, “Please provide proof of purchase to this mailbox. We consider the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”

We appreciate the offer, but there are some problems with this:

1- expenses are all very well but people need the money to spend  before they can claim and we know that most of us have spent an entire month’s budget in a matter of days and some are facing considerable stress and hardship until payday or if and when compensation is paid. 

2- receipts.  How, exactly, are people to claim for burning coal.and firewood and butane that were purchased some time ago? People rarely buy coal and wood by the sack, they buy it in bulk for the winter or buy several bulk purchases throughout winter.

We bought 1/2 a tonne of coal 3 weeks ago. That would have lasted us until mid February, we have burned 3/4s of it plus many loads of firewood donated by a neighbour over the crisis. How do we claim for that?

3- there appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding around how rural budgets work. Diesel and petrol are by far the largest household expense. As a result we budget on how many trips we need to do into town, to the schools, to every facility or service that most urban people can walk to or get public transport. There is little or no public transport to many of our outlying communities. The crisis has completely  thrown that budgeting. Let me explain. If you live remotely then you are probably using at least a tank of fuel a week, if you have a family, based on x number of trips perhaps more perhaps less. If you lived 5 miles from your nearest Community Center and were forced to head there 3 times a day to get hot food and warmth then you are driving an additional 30 miles a day, unbudgeted for. This means that that tank of fuel that lasts a week now lasts 3 days. Furthermore with one fuel station at Bellingham, between Hexham and Jedburgh, following the closure over the past 10 years even the act of buying fuel uses fuel.  

Are NPG going to make allowances for additional travel expenses, taxis to community centres or food sources or the cost of fuel due to the increased essential travel?

4- Lastly, in refusing to countenance releasing even a portion of the compensation payment to households affected, NPG are essentially expecting us to carry the debt until that payment is made.  People will be borrowing from banks, credit cards, families and friends and other sources, some decidedly less than advisable. Why should they carry this stress and burden especially in December?

Storm Arwen exposes critical problems in heating rural homes

Fancy being left for a week or two in an isolated farmhouse far from any shops, with no power for heat, lighting, phones or the internet, and outdoor/indoor temperatures never far from zero? That’s what happened to Charles Palmer, his family and many thousands of other households after Storm Arwen. It took Northern Powergrid over a week and in some cases nearly two to restore power, even with the (late) involvement of the MOD. Some properties have not yet had power restored. Hard to heat in the best of times, many homes have been the temperature of fridges.

Listen here as he describes the impact on household finances and the desperate financial situation some are now facing this December.

We are gathering reports from people who are struggling to survive in the absence of the compensation they are entitled to.

We need your help and support in getting the message out about the plight of those impacted. There has so far been only limited attention to this in Parliament. A full inquiry into the disastrous response by Northern Powergrid should lead to fundamental change — it should never happen again.

Please help amplify our posts and calls to action of Ofgem and Northern Powergrid.

Old stone farmhouses and cottages are hard to insulate, although materials like hempcrete may make this easier in the future. Making these homes energy efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels is clearly an urgent matter, which cannot be solved by one-size-fits-all technical solutions. 

In Mr Palmer’s rural upland area, most people are reliant on oil or LPG and coal or firewood. Oil and LPG must be bought in bulk — simply unaffordable for many families. Government regulations have imposed a switch to lower bitumen coal, which is supposed to be “greener” but Mr Palmer says it burns so badly that it keeps going out, bungs up the stoves with waste, and in any case you need far more of it so the carbon savings only exist on paper. As we’ve always said, if it doesn’t work – it isn’t green. 

Meanwhile, electric power is essential for keeping the heating systems going, as well as for lighting, and often for pumping and filtering water from wells. And some, relatively few homes, now base their heating on heat pumps, which are totally dependent on electricity. The lack of back-up provision of generators or fuel in some new homes built with heat pumps, and the huge delay in getting power back up and running, has led to residents being evacuated with hypothermia during the prolonged power failure. If heat pumps are to be the key technology in transition to lower carbon homes, they need to be installed with attention to local realities and the changing climate, as well as the need for thoroughly well-insulated homes.

Unsurprisingly in this situation we are hearing anecdotal reports of deaths related to the incident and more are expected. There’s a statutory requirement for Northern Powergrid to compensate its customers, and Ofgem has lifted the usual ceiling of £700 for compensation, for present purposes. However, no one knows how or when these Guaranteed Service payments will be paid. In any case the money, when it arrives, will do nothing to ease the present crisis. Some people have used up a whole month’s budget in a week and are left without anything to buy more food or fuel, never mind the costs of the festive season. Some have been reliant on takeaway dinners, some have had to evacuate their homes and stay in hotels, and many have lost the whole contents of their freezers, normally kept well stocked for winter emergencies. Soup kitchens have had plenty of Christmas turkeys, to turn into pre-Christmas soup. But with little or no public transport in these areas, many people cannot easily reach soup kitchens, cannot afford the petrol or diesel to get to towns or even villages, and cannot leave their homes and abandon their animals. Some have been reached at home by a massive effort of volunteers and local businesses and services, but even where help has been offered it has often been far from adequate. Many people have also lost work hours, or have been forced to use up their holiday entitlement.

In a crisis like this, it is shocking that people have not been able to rely on their supplier to keep them safe. Mr Palmer reports that a local business installed a number of generators for isolated homes, but after some initial successful installations they then found they couldn’t get the necessary authorisation released by Northern Powergrid to purchase any more: apparently Northern Powergrid said they wanted to “bring the incident back into the business”. Were they afraid of reputational damage from not being able to do the job themselves, when they clearly had no capacity to do this? An email from FPA to Ofgem late on Sunday, 5 December saw Ofgem immediately emailing Northern Powergrid:

For the avoidance of doubt, we expect network companies to make every effort to reconnect customers as soon as possible. This includes maximising the use of partner organisations to deliver support to customers, including gensets to reconnect domestic properties that are still without power. We do not have any requirement that all the work must be done by NPG themselves.” 

As power returns to the hills and valleys, we are now asking Ofgem to ensure that an advance of the statutory compensation is paid now, in cash, so that people can get through December.

Winter Deaths Protest!

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.  
  • The UK Treasury could harvest as much as £100 million from VAT receipts on rising energy prices. Its ‘Carbon tax’ revenues could rise by £1bn in revenue to the Treasury, on top of £4bn already made this  year. 
  • 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.

To contact NPC please use 020 8668 2840 / [email protected]

Update Autumn 2021

For the first time ever, we launched a Crowdfunder!

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: 

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 further information please contact 020 8668 2840 / [email protected]


We turned 10! (And threw a party.)

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!

Who should, and who SHOULDN’T be paying the price for disastrous decisions on energy. On GBTV News 18 October 2021

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. 

You pay more for energy if you have least to begin with. Ruth London on Sky News 21 October 2021

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].


FPA is a longstanding member of the Right to Energy Coalition, based in Brussels, which has issued this declaration in preparation for COP 26 NGOs, trade unions and social justice groups call on world leaders to commit to a Right to Clean, Affordable Energy at COP26).

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! 

At the same time we’ve been working with others in the UK including notably the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, and SHAC (below).

Social Housing Action Campaign

PLEASE SUPPORT SHAC’S big UK Housing Awards Protest in Greenwich on 25 November.  Or you might like to go inside instead?

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! 


Events Report:

23 November 5 – 6:30 pm online — we’ve been asked to pass on word of a free course of training on how to effectively engage with MPs.

25 November, in person, 5 pm in Greenwich — join us joining SHAC for their “biggest event of the year” — a protest at the hugely corrupt UK Housing Awards ceremony. 

26 November, 12.0, Westminster, join National Pensioners Convention (NPC) and FPA to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”.  Speakers include Frances O’Grady TUC and Lord Prem Sikka as well as ourselves.

Advice for people on heat networks (“District Heating”) having trouble with outages, high prices, or both

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!

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Some private companies, which includes many heat providers, are sensitive to their reputation for commercial reasons, and can also be approached through their shareholders.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

  15. 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. 

Update Winter 2020-2021

It’s been a long, hard winter, and we hope you’re all well. Here’s the latest news from FPA:

Rising Prices

On 5 February Ofgem announced their price cap increase, meaning a hefty rise in costs for everyone on default energy tariffs (and a likely rise in fixed tariffs as well, when they come due). Ruth London was on BBC TV News all day, with a substantial slot connecting issues from insulation and cladding to universal credit, pensions and homeschooling – and the need for a total reset because what we have now is killing us:

Check it out on Youtube. We also got a short bit on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and a statement in Energy Live News. We’re glad to have a chance to comment, with the UK’s already holey safety net just a memory, and now with wages so low and in the middle of a pandemic, any increase in energy prices must come with immediate changes in our resources.

At the same time however, we’ve been hard at work as usual on heat networks, on insulation and cladding, on pensioners’ health and standard of living, and have pitched in on issues of heat pumps, regeneration, fracking, and more.

______________________________________________________________

Heat Network Nightmares

A “heat network” works like central heating for a whole block, estate, or district.

Phoenix Works

We’re working with Peabody tenants in a new build Tower Hamlets development, Phoenix Works. They have been battling sky high tariffs – and have won a reduction by one half! We’ll shortly be making this public, so watch this space. They are still fighting to get a full refund of their overpayment, secure a better tariff for the future, get repairs done promptly, get better heat controls, and above all to make the heat provider accountable to them – which at present, they are not.

Oval Quarter

Oval Quarter, Lambeth, where FPA was heavily involved in bringing heat provider E.ON to account, is again having serious problems with unreliability. We’re back working with them after a gap of several years, following publication of our report on that heat network, Not Fit for Purpose in 2017.

New Festival Quarter & St Clements

We’re also working with two other Tower Hamlets heat networks – at New Festival Quarter and at St Clements, where residents have long been fighting scandalous charges, and other issues including insulation and cladding. We recently organised a meeting for residents from all three developments to meet together with their MP, Apsana Begum. On 4 February Ms Begum committed to taking their issues forward with the council, the GLA, the heat provider and landlords, and in parliament.

Southwark

In Southwark, the battle continues to get heat networks in working order – and in the meantime to win compensation so that when they are not working, residents at least can afford to use space heaters to keep warm. Despite all the efforts of residents, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, and FPA the council’s assurances that “no one will be out of pocket” have not been fulfilled. We’re told there will finally be a policy of automatic compensation of £3 per day, starting in April this year. In the meantime the suffering – and the health costs – are unbearable. See the account in Inside Housing. People in cold homes are taking to twitter to raise concerns of their council home without heating, or one of a relative. One tweets: “OAPs in block Clifton Estate SE15 fed up with communal heating ALWAYS going off EVERY year during COLDEST spells” . Last week another tweeter asked: “if someone dies from a cold home, is this corporate manslaughter?”

Broken promises on national Covid protection

In May 2020, many heat providers signed an Agreement to ensure that heat network customers were protected and supported during the COVID pandemic, to prevent disconnections and cold. The latest monitoring report, by the Heat Trust, finds:

“rising numbers of disconnections from some suppliers during the coldest part of the year, low reconnection rates and declining levels of support given to pre-payment meter customers. Heat Trust is also concerned at failures of some suppliers to keep to the terms of the Agreement and report on their activities.”

Between persistent outages and unbearable prices

Unregulated, unaccountable and uncaring heat providers are likely to have deaths on their accounts this Covid winter, despite widespread and determined efforts. We will never know how many.

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Pendleton, Salford – on the way to court

Residents of Pendleton Together’s high rise towers in Salford are taking their landlord to court over fire risks, maintenance, ineffective heating through NIBE heat pumps, and the freezing temperatures they are enduring now that their cladding has finally been removed. Read FPA member Graeme Langton’s account here. And see here a write up in Manchester Evening News, exposing the terrible cold that Pendleton residents are facing this winter. A group of Pendleton residents plus a reporter from the Salford Star led a breakout group at our December conference Making Green Come True. So far, Pendlton Together seem to disregard all public disclosure of what they are imposing on their residents.

In the last few days, and in the same week that the fire risks at Pendleton were highlighted in the Grenfell inquiry, the fire door through which residents would escape the building has been  left broken and unusable. Residents were not even informed or given any alternative evacuation plan.

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Pembroke Park, Hillingdon – light at the end of the tunnel

There is finally good news from this estate, where FPA has been supporting residents for many years. After years of pressure from residents, and the changing climate post-Grenfell, a new estate management has decided to do something about the fact that the estate was built by Taylor Woodrow in 2010 with its insulation missing. Tenant Tracey Rogers wrote in, in January to tell us:

“after 10 years of being cold, A2 sent 4 people around today to investigate my moans. The outcome is my house has no insulation, my sons room has to have all the walls and ceiling removed, the insulation in the loft had all fallen down (what little was there) I have to be moved out of my property for at least 6 weeks. So yes I have been literally heating the street. My next battle will be compensation.”

Tracey later got back in touch to tell us that her home was a building site, the workmen wear no masks, no alternative accommodation was offered and her daughter and grandchildren, who live with her, have had to move out and find somewhere to live for six weeks in the middle of a pandemic.

There are still many residents in Pembroke Park whose homes are not being insulated at all, and who have no idea when or if they will be.

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Regeneration, embodied carbon, communities and fuel poverty

In January we worked with others at the Radical Housing Network to formulate questions to mayoral and GLA candidates on embodied carbon and other environmental effects of regeneration, also touching on rent control, and the use of empty homes. This was following taking part in their meeting about Lambeth’s on Central Hill estate, where people have been camping to prevent demolition of a close community as part of a regeneration scheme. Early in the morning of 10 February, demolition workers arrived outside Truslove House, sparking a demolition resistance action. Police initially left the occupation alone, but the Council called a Gold Command meeting and at its request the police returned (20+ police with vans) to clear the occupation and cordon off the site. The resistance saw 25 people attending over 6 hours. The campaign will continue.

Many of these housing and heating issues will be raised at  Homes for All’s  “Housing and Health Emergency” summit, Saturday 20th of February. Some of us from FPA will be taking part in the SHAC workshop exploring how housing workers and housing association residents have worked together to get results. Other workshops include one focusing on evictions, disrepair, rents, Grenfell, health and poverty. It will all be on Zoom. Do come along and let us know if there’s something you would like discussed. You can register here.

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Government policy

FPA have been active on a policy level, in January submitting responses to government consultations on improving energy efficiency in the Private Rented Sector, and on their plans for the integration -or rather, the disintegration of the NHS.

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Fracking, plastic, and the building industry

We are in communication with Plastics Rebellion about running a session on Plastics in Construction at their weekly Tuesday evening Zoom.

We hope to talk about the widespread and very large-scale use of plastic as a building material, specifically for insulation and cladding. This led directly to the Grenfell fire, as FPA laid out at the time here. The Grenfell connection could add a pointed message to the plastics campaign.

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Keeping the issues in the public eye

We have consistently raised issues of heating and insulation at meetings and conferences in the housing movement. As Suz Muna of Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) told us, regarding their 28 January housing safety conference:

“we’ll be happy to have you speak at the conference. Your group raises an often hidden and silent health hazard, but one which blights many lives.”

Similarly, On 19 January we attended and contributed to the launch of The London Tenants’ Manifesto on the right to warm, and affordably warm, safe and healthy housing. We tweeted out the Manifesto here.

On 27 January we joined forces with South East London Community Energy (SELCE) to speak at Lewisham Pensioners Forum Annual Health Fayre on ‘How to Take Action on Fuel Poverty’.

We have also put people who want to speak out in touch with the media, and have done extensive briefing of members of the press on fuel poverty (eg. for the Mirror’s current campaign), and on housing issues that leave residents cold (eg. for Inside Housing and the Building Centre). After contact with another journalist last year, we received a copy of her final report on incinerators, which are often a heat source for district heating, but a pollution source for miles around. Josephine Moulds dissects their low carbon credentials and the pricing of these schemes.

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Practical tips on personal energy saving

With Citizens Advice (UK) and the Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) project (H2020), En-Act have produced a series of 11 short videos that show how to save energy at home. While being informative, they are quite short and snappy. Here’s one about fixing draughty doors. Others cover electronics, kitchen, loft, bathroom, floors, laundry, lighting, radiators, windows and chimneys.