Thaxted Court: Hackney Council accused of ‘illegally’ switching off heating in pre-paid ‘pricey’ meter stand-off
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Some Hoxton tenants claim their heating and hot water were turned off three weeks ago by the council in a showdown as they refuse installation of pre-paid meters. The council denies having done so. Emma Bartholomew reports
Hackney Council has apologised for sending tenants a letter warning their heating and hot water would be cut off if they refused installation of a pre-paid smart meter.
Thaxted Court residents have accused the council and its installation engineers Sycous of “bullying behaviour” in their attempts to encourage them to have the meters installed.
Those from the estate in Murray Grove, Hoxton, who capitulated say the meters, which must be paid for in a local shop, have made bills eye-wateringly expensive and have plunged them into fuel poverty with prices as high as £10 a day.
At least four people the Gazette knows of who are still holding out, claim their heating and hot water has indeed been cut off – and have accused the council of acting illegally by switching off the supply during winter.
The council refutes the claims.
A letter sent on March 8 seen by the Gazette clearly links installation of the meters with disconnection of the supply. It states: “Our engineers have informed us three unsuccessful attempts have been made to install the heat meter in your home, and that you have not made any contact with them. This letter is to inform you that your heating will be off from Monday 11 March 2019, that is, you will not be able to use your current heating system from this date.”
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To “avoid any disruption” tenants were asked to call Sycous. But the council apologised for “the confusion” and now claims the information was “incorrect”. The letters should have apparently stated the heating and hot water would be turned off for just five days between 9am and 4pm, due to “works being carried out in the boiler room of the building, relating to the new meter installation”.
Neil Jones accused the council of “spouting utter rubbish”. He pointed out the building doesn’t have a boiler room. The council conceded he is in fact correct.
“If they were working on the boiler why did they not send a copy to everyone in this block then?” asked Neil. “By their own admission they only sent it to six properties hoping that no one would complain.”
Neil claims his heating has been switched off for three weeks now, and he has been going to Ironmonger Row Baths to shower.
When the Gazette visited him in his 12th floor flat, he was heating his home with the oven. Because he is not in arrears and already pays £7 a week for heating through his tenancy agreement he has accused the council of breaching energy refulator Ofgem’s rules, and says this is made worse by the fact he’s a vulnerable person having had testicular cancer 10 years ago. Threats of court action he claims staff have made over the phone are bringing back bad memories.
“My dad was evicted 25 years ago and killed himself within hours,” said Neil. They took him to court, and he wrote four long suicide letters. Now this is raking it all up again. I can’t deal with this.” He wouldn’t mind having meters if there was insulation in the flat - which is another bone of contention between him and the council, which claims cavity wall insulation and double-glazing were put in by an abseiler in 2014.
“That the funniest thing I have ever heard,” said Neil. “They must of been quick then. No one ever saw them or heard them.
He added: “Prepayment is the most expensive way to pay for services, so why would any council do that to its tenants. Even energy companies only install them as a last resort.
“We are absolutely freezing because there is no insulation and if you think about the wind chill, and the freezing cold air blowing up against the concrete, you are fighting a losing battle,
“When the council put new windows in in 2012 under the decent homes scheme they had scaffolding up, and they didn’t have the money to put the insulation in the walls. The contractor said to me: ‘You have a right result on your heating – they can’t charge you on pay as you go because of the heat going straight out the walls’.”
The Gazette has spoken to six people who claim they were threatened with disconnection and all of them report feeling “bullied”. One man said he would not mind having the meter installed if it weren’t for a strong draught in his flat which “makes people’s hair move while in the lounge”.
Another lady spoke of her concerns about the costs. She said: “I’ve got a little one, but now I’m scared to put the heater on. At first they said it would be a bit cheaper, instead of having it added to the rent. I’m disappointed, and refused at first because I knew the rate wouldn’t be good.”
A spokesperson for the council said Mr Jones’ heating and hot water were working on March 11 when a council officer visited - but he says it was turned off two days later. The spokesperson added: “In 2014, the Government made it the statutory duty of all councils to install heat meters and energy monitoring systems to homes, where appropriate to do so, in order to improve energy efficiency in blocks across the country. The council is currently installing these to approximately 1,700 homes in 103 blocks in the borough.
“These new smart meters replace the flat rate system, in which all residents pay a fixed charge based on total usage in their block, irrespective of personal use. The new system means residents have immediate access to their energy use, giving them the ability to more effectively control their consumption. It also means residents only pay for what they actually use in their own home.
“Overall, the council’s expectation is that collective energy use will fall and individual savings will be made following the installation of smart meters in homes. As soon as a property has the energy meter installed and commissioned, the former flat charge is removed.”