IN recent months we have all seen terrifying increases in our energy bills and heard reports of households taking drastic action to pay their bills and reduce their consumption.
Thankfully, I had built up an energy bill credit, or Christmas would have been cancelled in our house. Our monthly bill was eight times that of two years ago – though having adult children home from university, short days and late nights, and lots of Christmas cooking will have contributed to that!
As spring approaches, and the weather warms, people will be thankful that things are getting better – although prices are increasing again, at least demand falls at this time of year. But not everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.
I have spoken to many residents in recent weeks who live in social housing, many of them elderly and on extremely low incomes who have just received their service charges for the coming year.
Their bills have increased by up to 400% with one local supported living development seeing its monthly bills increase by £448. That is not the rent increase, it is the increase in the apartment’s share of heat and light plus the communal energy bill for the shared lounges, hallways and lifts.
The providers might argue that those tenants have been underpaying for part of the last year as people with their own meters have seen their prices rise month on month. Looking at those numbers and the fact that these increased prices will be baked in for the forthcoming year as wholesale prices fall, that is simply not credible.
These are SOCIAL housing providers, and they are providing homes for vulnerable people, usually those who are elderly or have disabilities, and often live on a meagre pension or benefits.
One problem seems to be that their power contracts are commercial and not domestic, plus these buildings have not been fitted with improvements such as solar panels or heat pumps. The reduced anxiety that inclusive rents gave tenants is now leading to some of the most vulnerable in our society facing eviction.
This is a national scandal. MPs must act urgently – we need commercial energy contracts re-viewed, not just for housing providers but also small businesses who are stuck in agreements that could bankrupt them; we need a proper windfall tax that covers the refining and sale of oil and gas as well as extraction with the taxes invested in retrofitting, so no-one lives in fuel poverty and we can reduce our carbon footprints; we need a commitment from housing providers not only that no-one will face eviction because of such charges. They must find ways to absorb them because such debt will have a direct impact on tenants’ health and wellbeing.
The Government cannot blame Covid and Ukraine any longer for its failings. These crises affected the rest of Europe, but we do not see vulnerable people there facing losing their homes because energy companies are making vast profits.
The Government must put people first before we see deaths, not just from the cold but from debt.
Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate – Mid Dorset & North Poole