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 thosebenefiting 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Join Fuel Poverty Action and National Pensioners Convention: 26 November 12pm, George V’s statue, Old Palace Yard Westminster
As always at this time of year, FPA will be joining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”. Each year in the UK around 10,000 people die because they cannot afford to heat their homes. That figure is from before the pandemic and it’s likely to be still higher now: Covid and cold homes do not go well together. FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November to mark these tragic, desperate, and avoidable deaths.
We will demand action. There is no shortage of money to help us keep warm:
Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of the extra high prices we are paying. During COP26 FPA wrote to its President, Alok Sharma, demanding a windfall tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.
This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. But the National Audit Office found it was “botched” and collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced.
30 UK millionaires are asking for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.”
A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in the excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — a huge sum, around the same as the US$100 bn a year that all the rich nations together claimed they couldn’t find to support frontline countries to adapt to climate change!
Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold. Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter. Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death.
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages. This cannot be allowed to stand.
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday. Please bring banners and publicise the event so that we have a good attendance. If you can help with a portable sound system, please let us know!
Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street where a letter will be handed in.
Speakers include TUC President Sue Ferns, Lord Prem Sikka, and Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action.
We are run by a small team of volunteers. In January, we brought on Maddy Winters – a campaigner with a decade of cold home experience, for ten hours a week at £15/hour. This underpins everything our wider group does unpaid. We will use your donations to extend this employment.
We are in more demand than ever. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and up to 140,000 households are being added each day to the list of families forced to choose between heating and eating.
Promote our crowdfunder in your networks – share the link: crowdfunder.co.uk/fuelpovertyaction, retweet us, share our Facebook post, with your own endorsement or click the links below:
The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax free payment of £100 – £300 paid each autumn to people aged over 66. It is a life-saver for many pensioners who are struggling to keep warm. But some people who get it don’t feel they need it, and want to pass it on. If that’s you, there are loads of ways to do that through charities (on the web, see “donate winter fuel payment”) — or you could consider giving all or part of it to FPA’s crowdfunder!
IF, HOWEVER, YOU ARE STRUGGLING TO KEEP THE HEAT ON, HERE ARE SOME SOURCES OF ADVICE AND HELP:
You may qualify for fuel vouchers, through the Fuel Bank Foundation, CItizens Advice, your local authority or elsewhere.
The crisis you are in is not your fault. GET HELP!
Join us! Winter Deaths Protest on 26 November with FPA and National Pensioners Convention
As always at this time of year, FPA will be combining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”, and the thousands who die each year because they can’t afford to heat their homes. The statistics are less reliable than ever this year, in the time of Covid-19, but the number of deaths is bound to be even greater: imagine having Covid in a cold home! FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November. If you’d like to do more to mark this day, and to highlight the pain and suffering of cold homes, even for those who do not die from them, let us know!
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street
Please bring banners and try and publicise locally so that we have a good attendance. Speakers invited include Frances O’Grady TUC, Lord Prem Sikka and Ruth London Fuel Poverty Action.
For a whole decade we’ve been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing.
To celebrate this milestone, we got together on Zoom to share memories and play games. As well as look to the future. You can watch the event here.
Thank you to everyone who attended and made this such a special gathering.
Where is the money going?
The huge rise in energy prices this autumn follows on from a previous increase last April and there is another rise expected next spring. Millions of people do not know how in the world they will survive the winter, with household finances already stretched to breaking point and further cuts to benefits, pensions and public services. While the government has rowed back to a degree on the Universal Credit cut for people who are in waged work, the full £20 per week cut is in effect for mothers at home looking after young children, and people with coping with disabilities who cannot manage a waged job on top of that. (Both are working!)
Meanwhile oil companies have been making a killing in profits, and planning to invest their takings in dividends for shareholders and further investment in fossil fuel extraction, exploration and development — just as the world acknowledges that the climate is on a knife-edge, threatening everything we hold dear. FPA have been demanding resources for — quickly, safely, and accountably — making our homes energy efficient, and rebalancing the energy pricing system so that it is no longer those who have least, and who use least energy, who pay the highest price for what they need. That is now more urgent than ever.
In the middle of COP26 with two of our members up in Glasgow, FPA wrote to Alok Sharma demanding that the huge profits now being made by Big Oil should not be invested in shareholders pockets, or in further drilling for fossil fuels. Instead they should be used to relieve fuel poverty, and accomplish the urgent switch away from these unaffordable, unsustainable source of energy. We called for a swingeing windfall tax on the super-profits now rolling into the industry — and an end to subsidies from the public purse. According to the International Monetary Fund, governments spent $450bn in direct subsidies for the fossil fuel industry!
We have been on the news!
FPA has been called on continuously by the media and we have been happy to use this platform, ranging from the Financial Times and Women’s Hour, to small local papers, the Daily Express, the Mail, the Morning Star. We’ve had regular live appearances on Sky and other TV stations, were interviewed on LBC,and have reached further afield via Reuters, Bloomberg, and Euronews. We’ve done interviews with journalists and tv stations from France, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea as well as the UK and international agencies and publications like Reuters and Bloomberg. Another major part of our role has been helping to put journalists from the UK and round the world in touch with people in fuel poverty who want to speak out about their own situation and that of their families and neighbours, including FPA members like Diane.
We have been working with Insulate Britain and Action on Empty Homes
As well as publicly supporting the Insulate Britain campaign we have worked to make available to them the experience and perspectives accumulated in our 10 years of campaigning for insulation, emphasising the need for it to be safe, non-toxic, and non-flammable, for it to be installed in a way that is fully accountable to residents, and for the costs of insulation and of rising prices of fossil fuels to be borne by those responsible for climate change, not people struggling to pay their bills (contributions partly reflected in IB’s “Technical Summary“)
We have also highlighted the issue of insulation with the campaign against empty homes, with Ruth London speaking at Action on Empty Homes’ highly successful rally and day of action on 9 October, suggesting that owners of homes left empty should be required to undertake a deep retrofit — much easier while no one is living in the building! – and then make them available for residents of other homes being retrofitted with insulation and new heating systems to decant into while their homes are a building site. See below re another event coming up on 11 November.
Our many media appearances this autumn have helped call attention to the scandal of empty homes and the UK’s appallingly leaky, ill-repaired and poorly insulated housing.
We’re releasing a song! Can you help?
Calling all our supporters with links to the music industry – we need help releasing a Fuel Poverty themed single – written and recorded by one of our supporters! Can you help guide us to releasing a single? Get in touch on [email protected].
The Coalition has also been pressing for priority for people in fuel poverty in the EU’s “Renovation Wave”.
And it has been working out demands on energy pricing and taxes to relieve the devastating effects of rising gas prices while still not increasing state subsidies of fossil fuels. That last discussion in particular, FPA has played a major part in. It is ongoing. If you’d like to contribute to it, please let us know!
“If you’re a bit strapped for cash, you only need £345 plus VAT for a seat in the standard zone, a three-course dinner, half a bottle of wine, and a reception drink upon arrival. £4,495 plus VAT on the other hand will get you …a magnum of chilled champagne on arrival, followed by 10 bottles of beer, 5 bottles of premium wine, a three-course dinner, premium chocolates gifts on each place setting.“
Together with people from Peabody, Clarion, OHG and many other so-called social housing providers,who have been organising and winning in their fight for acceptable housing, we’ll have more fun in the street!
On Oct 1, half a million more households will be at risk of Fuel Poverty, having to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.
As the costs of fossil fuels soar this autumn, everyone is being hit by rising bills. Many are already desperate, and 1.5 million people have also been affected by their energy supplier going bust in the past few days. Meanwhile Universal Credit is to be cut. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and this will increase by another 500,000 households when the Price Cap is raised on 1st October.
For ten years, Fuel Poverty Action has been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing. We are a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. You can support the Coalition’s petition for urgent financial assistance to those affected by the energy price crisis alongside rapid roll-out of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of homes: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/fuel-poverty-crisis
Cold homes kill. Help us fight for affordable, sustainable energy.
We work with people organising to make their homes fit to live in – battling energy suppliers or landlords, fighting for their own, their families’ and neighbours’ survival. We insist that “affordable” and “sustainable” homes and energy are not incompatible goals, but two sides of a coin, and equally urgent.
It’s been a long, hard winter, and we hope you’re all well. Here’s the latest news from FPA:
On 5 February Ofgem announced their price cap increase, meaning a hefty rise in costs for everyone on default energy tariffs (and a likely rise in fixed tariffs as well, when they come due). Ruth London was on BBC TV News all day, with a substantial slot connecting issues from insulation and cladding to universal credit, pensions and homeschooling – and the need for a total reset because what we have now is killing us:
Check it out on Youtube. We also got a short bit on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and a statement in Energy Live News. We’re glad to have a chance to comment, with the UK’s already holey safety net just a memory, and now with wages so low and in the middle of a pandemic, any increase in energy prices must come with immediate changes in our resources.
At the same time however, we’ve been hard at work as usual on heat networks, on insulation and cladding, on pensioners’ health and standard of living, and have pitched in on issues of heat pumps, regeneration, fracking, and more.
A “heat network” works like central heating for a whole block, estate, or district.
We’re working with Peabody tenants in a new build Tower Hamlets development, Phoenix Works. They have been battling sky high tariffs – and have won a reduction by one half!We’ll shortly be making this public, so watch this space. They are still fighting to get a full refund of their overpayment, secure a better tariff for the future, get repairs done promptly, get better heat controls,and above all to make the heat provider accountable to them – which at present, they are not.
Oval Quarter, Lambeth, where FPA was heavily involved in bringing heat provider E.ON toaccount, is again having serious problems with unreliability. We’re back working with them after a gap of several years, following publication of our report on that heat network, Not Fit for Purpose in 2017.
New Festival Quarter & St Clements
We’re also working with two other Tower Hamlets heat networks – at New Festival Quarter and at St Clements, where residents have long been fighting scandalous charges, and other issues including insulation and cladding. We recently organised a meeting for residents from all three developments to meet together with their MP, Apsana Begum. On 4 February Ms Begum committed to taking their issues forward with the council, the GLA, the heat provider and landlords, and in parliament.
In Southwark, the battle continues to get heat networks in working order – and in the meantime to win compensation so that when they are not working, residents at least can afford to use space heaters to keep warm. Despite all the efforts of residents, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, and FPA the council’s assurances that “no one will be out of pocket” have not been fulfilled. We’re told there will finally be a policy of automatic compensation of £3 per day, starting in April this year. In the meantime the suffering – and the health costs – are unbearable. See the account in Inside Housing. People in cold homes are taking to twitter to raise concerns of their council home without heating, or one of a relative. One tweets: “OAPs in block Clifton Estate SE15 fed up with communal heating ALWAYS going off EVERY year during COLDEST spells” . Last week another tweeter asked: “if someone dies from a cold home, is this corporate manslaughter?”
Broken promises on national Covid protection
In May 2020, many heat providers signed an Agreement to ensure that heat network customers were protected and supported during the COVID pandemic, to prevent disconnections and cold. The latest monitoring report, by the Heat Trust, finds:
“rising numbers of disconnections from some suppliers during the coldest part of the year, low reconnection rates and declining levels of support given to pre-payment meter customers. Heat Trust is also concerned at failures of some suppliers to keep to the terms of the Agreement and report on their activities.”
Between persistent outages and unbearable prices
Unregulated, unaccountable and uncaring heat providers are likely to have deaths on their accounts this Covid winter, despite widespread and determined efforts. We will never know how many.
Residents of Pendleton Together’s high rise towers in Salford are taking their landlord to court over fire risks, maintenance, ineffective heating through NIBE heat pumps, and the freezing temperatures they are enduring now that their cladding has finally been removed. Read FPA member Graeme Langton’s account here. And see here a write up in Manchester Evening News, exposing the terrible cold that Pendleton residents are facing this winter. A group of Pendleton residents plus a reporter from the Salford Star led a breakout group at our December conference Making Green Come True. So far, Pendlton Together seem to disregard all public disclosure of what they are imposing on their residents.
In the last few days, and in the same week that the fire risks at Pendleton were highlighted in the Grenfell inquiry, the fire door through which residents would escape the building has been left broken and unusable. Residents were not even informed or given any alternative evacuation plan.
Pembroke Park, Hillingdon – light at the end of the tunnel
There is finally good news from this estate, where FPA has been supporting residents for many years. After years of pressure from residents, and the changing climate post-Grenfell, a new estate management has decided to do something about the fact that the estate was built by Taylor Woodrow in 2010 with its insulation missing. Tenant Tracey Rogers wrote in, in January to tell us:
“after 10 years of being cold, A2 sent 4 people around today to investigate my moans. The outcome is my house has no insulation, my sons room has to have all the walls and ceiling removed, the insulation in the loft had all fallen down (what little was there) I have to be moved out of my property for at least 6 weeks. So yes I have been literally heating the street. My next battle will be compensation.”
Tracey later got back in touch to tell us that her home was a building site, the workmen wear no masks, no alternative accommodation was offered and her daughter and grandchildren, who live with her, have had to move out and find somewhere to live for six weeks in the middle of a pandemic.
There are still many residents in Pembroke Park whose homes are not being insulated at all, and who have no idea when or if they will be.
Regeneration, embodied carbon, communities and fuel poverty
In January we worked with others at the Radical Housing Network to formulate questions to mayoral and GLA candidates on embodied carbon and other environmental effects of regeneration, also touching on rent control, and the use of empty homes. This was following taking part in their meeting about Lambeth’s on Central Hill estate, where people have been camping to prevent demolition of a close community as part of a regeneration scheme. Early in the morning of 10 February, demolition workers arrived outside Truslove House, sparking a demolition resistance action. Police initially left the occupation alone, but the Council called a Gold Command meeting and at its request the police returned (20+ police with vans) to clear the occupation and cordon off the site. The resistance saw 25 people attending over 6 hours. The campaign will continue.
Many of these housing and heating issues will be raised at Homes for All’s “Housing and Health Emergency” summit, Saturday 20th of February. Some of us from FPA will be taking part in the SHAC workshop exploring how housing workers and housing association residents have worked together to get results. Other workshops include one focusing on evictions, disrepair, rents, Grenfell, health and poverty. It will all be on Zoom. Do come along and let us know if there’s something you would like discussed. You can register here.
We are in communication with Plastics Rebellion about running a session on Plastics in Construction at their weekly Tuesday evening Zoom.
We hope to talk about the widespread and very large-scale use of plastic as a building material, specifically for insulation and cladding. This led directly to the Grenfell fire, as FPA laid out at the time here. The Grenfell connection could add a pointed message to the plastics campaign.
We have consistently raised issues of heating and insulation at meetings and conferences in the housing movement. As Suz Muna of Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) told us, regarding their 28 January housing safety conference:
“we’ll be happy to have you speak at the conference. Your group raises an often hidden and silent health hazard, but one which blights many lives.”
Similarly, On 19 January we attended and contributed to the launch of The London Tenants’ Manifesto on the right to warm, and affordably warm, safe and healthy housing. We tweeted out the Manifesto here.
On 27 January we joined forces with South East London Community Energy (SELCE) to speak at Lewisham Pensioners Forum Annual Health Fayre on ‘How to Take Action on Fuel Poverty’.
We have also put people who want to speak out in touch with the media, and have done extensive briefing of members of the press on fuel poverty (eg. for the Mirror’s current campaign), and on housing issues that leave residents cold (eg. for Inside Housing and the Building Centre). After contact with another journalist last year, we received a copy of her final report on incinerators, which are often a heat source for district heating, but a pollution source for miles around. Josephine Moulds dissects their low carbon credentials and the pricing of these schemes.
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