Residents in some of the poorest areas of the country are being further impoverished by expensive heating systems, or face living in freezing conditions without hot water. Their housing association landlords are claiming that they have no influence with the heating provider companies.
“Heat networks are supposed to provide a low cost, and potentially low carbon alternative to individual gas boilers or electric heaters. Yet many residents of modern developments with heat networks are freezing cold.”Fuel Poverty Action report “Holding Feet to the Fire: Peabody Tenants Confront Unaccountable Heating and Housing Management.”
This is the conclusion of a newly published and highly detailed report by Fuel Poverty Action (FPA), a campaign group supporting residents on estates and developments with heat networks who are battling for fair prices, reliable heat and accountability.
Read Fuel Poverty Action’s Report Holding Feet to the Fire: Peabody Tenants Confront Unaccountable Heating and Housing Management.
See also The Times newspaper’s coverage of FPA’s report.
The report illustrates a widespread problem, and focuses the case of Peabody Housing Association’s social tenats at Phoenix Works, a private new build development in London.
Extortionate Heating Costs
Residents found they were being charged four times the usual cost of gas heating because they were trapped with a ‘heat network’ supplier (a special form of energy supply which provides central heating for many flats together). This type of provision is still unregulated in the UK.
But this was only half the problem. Further investigation revealed that they could not switch supplier and had no consumer protection. Their families were left cold, or plunged into debt.
Ashna Rahman said “when the pandemic first hit I was self isolating with my child in a cold flat for 2 weeks with no heating or hot water. I have had to borrow money to top this meter up. I felt extremely low and suicidal at this point.”
The report has tragic stories of families struggling to meet rising energy costs and keep their families safe. Fuel poverty is often presented in the media as an issue affecting those on state pensions. This is undoubtedly the case, and is a scandal in itself, but FPA’s report shows that it affects a much wider section of the population.
At the heart of this issue, as with so many others, lies a lack of accountability. Where homes are serviced by heat networks, the tenants are forced to pay whatever the provider chooses to charge. There is no option to switch to a cheaper provider; a right that those with individual energy contracts take for granted.
“We have worked with residents of a dozen London estates with heat networks, many of them wrestling with multiple layers of responsible parties, looking for a chink in the armour, trying to find someone who is, or can be made to be, responsible to them.”Fuel Poverty Action
Although their situation has been bleak, Peabody tenants won a huge tariff reduction after an inspiring battle with their landlord and the energy supplier. Their fight however is far from over and they continue to campaign for a better contract and repayment of the overcharging.
The Fight Goes On
SHAC was proud to make a contribution to FPAs report and continues to stand with the tenants of Phoenix Works. We join their calls for a better deal, accountability, and full refunds of what they overpaid.
SHAC also believes that it is unacceptable that this form of heating is excluded from consumer protections. This must be addressed to end the impoverishment and unhealthy living conditions for such tenants and residents.
For more information on Fuel Poverty Action, see their website here.
If you are sharing on Twitter, please use the hashtags #PhoenixWorks #Peabody #HeatNetworkNightmare.
5 April 2021