Housing scheme residents face ‘frightening’ 500% increase in heating bills

Emma Watt with her two daughters Ameenah, 11, and Malika, 14 (Emma Watt)
Emma Watt with her two daughters Ameenah, 11, and Malika, 14 (Emma Watt)

Residents of a housing scheme that describes itself as the UK’s “leading social enterprise” are facing a 500 per cent hike in their heating bills.

Families and pensioners living in Greendykes housing development in Edinburgh say they are “frightened” and “totally out of control” in light of the sudden increase.

Their homes are heated by shared heat networks commonly used in blocks of flats - which are not subject to the Ofgem price cap - and they are unable to switch suppliers.

Single parent Emma Watt, 47, says she is having to request her thermostat be turned off entirely over the winter as she cannot afford to pay the hiked charges.

She said her bills will go from £150 to £509 per month under the new charges, which take their energy costs from 5p/kw to 25.54p p/KWh from August 1.

“As a single parent with two daughters I absolutely cannot afford these increases and its really scary,” the social care worker told The Independent.

“This area has a higher proportion of child poverty and deprivation as it is. This is putting people at the bottom of the pile in Edinburgh in an even worse situation. No one can take on more debt at the moment. I don’t know where they think this money would come from.”

Residents of the Greendykes housing development say they are ‘frightened’ by the 500% heating bill hike (Google Maps)
Residents of the Greendykes housing development say they are ‘frightened’ by the 500% heating bill hike (Google Maps)

Emma is one of several disabled residents in the development and was “shocked” to receive a letter sent from Places for People, who manage the development, which advised residents use air fryers or take quicker showers to manage their bills.

“I have MS, so to hear from someone that I should just take a quick shower is an absolute insult,” she said.

One of her neighbours and fellow single parent, Emma Milton, 57, is facing similar problems and says her heating bill will go from £50 per month to £250 per month.

Before moving into Greendykes, she was living in emergency housing with her two sons and was “really happy” to have been able to afford a shared ownership deposit of her flat.

“Most of my neighbours are the same and have shared ownership. I’m a single parent and couldn’t afford a house my own,” the early years officer said.

“I feel totally out of control. I thought maybe they had the wrong tariff but we can’t do anything about it. The law is not on our side and it doesn’t make any sense at all.

“They can just do what they like and that’s frightening.”

Emma Milton was ‘really excited’ when she moved into her flat with her two sons (Supplied)
Emma Milton was ‘really excited’ when she moved into her flat with her two sons (Supplied)

Households on heating networks are not protected under Ofgem’s price cap, which sets the maximum suppliers can charge for each unit of energy, meaning that even though they are domestic properties, they are supplied energy via their landlord who purchases it on the commercial market.

Evelyn and Ian Docherty, 69 and 73, say they are now in a “very scary situation” as they are not sure how they’ll afford the price hike with their pension.

Residents were “shocked” when their bills increased in April without any notice. After complaining, Places for People froze the bills while they conducted a review, which found the price rise would still go ahead on August 1.

In April, Evelyn put £40 from the couple’s pension into their meter, which usually lasts them four weeks, only to find it had run out in just two days.

“When we moved here we were told it would be cheap to run, but look at it now, it’s horrendous,” the retired GP receptionist said. “I’m beginning to freak out now and really not looking forward to winter.

“In April, I thought the meter as wrong or there had been a mistake. I won’t be able to put money in my meter this winter or heat this flat up. We get no help and its very scary.”

Ian, a retired painter and decorator, and Evelyn live in a block mainly filled with other retirees who fear being cold this winter.

Ian and Evelyn Docherty (Supplied)
Ian and Evelyn Docherty (Supplied)

David Chalmers, 47, said his mother, Linda Chalmers, 70, was told by her neighbours about the price rise after £10 in her meter lasted only one day.

“They’re supposed to be a socially responsible landlord but they’ve put the price up 500 per cent for elderly and vulnerable people,” Mr Chalmers said. “Her pension doesn’t go up to match this so she’s either going to be cold or stuck in fuel poverty. I’m really worried about my mum and her neighbours.”

A Places for People Scotland spokesperson said: “After customers queried their new heat tariff in April, we wanted to make sure we looked into their concerns. So, we reviewed the tariff and the process followed and froze rates to their previous lower level while we did this.

“After a thorough and careful review, we can confirm that the new heat tariff procured at the end of last year was based on expert advice and reflects the market conditions at the time. It will therefore be brought in from 1 August.

“We understand that the increase feels significant, but it is because the long-term fixed tariff previously in place kept energy costs lower for these customers in recent years while bills elsewhere rose. The new prices are more reflective of the current market following the end of the previous contract.

“We would never want to see anyone struggle to meet costs and will continue to offer tailored support.  We have a range of financial support schemes available to our customers and we are reaching out to everyone to provide help where needed.”