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.

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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.

FPA response to new proposals for ECO scheme

The government published proposals for the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) scheme due to come to force in October 2018. FPA wrote with our concerns that the proposals, by excluding oil, risk the lives of rural residents. We also prompted a personal response from an oil customer in a rural home with no other realistic way to heat his family’s home.  In August 2018 we learned that in a surprise change from their original consultation, BEIS have announced that they will continue to allow new oil boilers to be installed under ECO3  under the ‘Broken Boiler Cap’ (of 35,000 systems per year equivalent). BEIS expects that new oil boilers will be delivered mostly in rural areas. In addition, a 400% uplift will be available to provide support for the replacement of broken boilers (including oil-fired boilers) under the cap to low income, “vulnerable” and fuel poor households.
Read our letter to Claire Perry, the Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth below:
Letter to BEIS on Oil and Fuel Poverty