Concern over communal heating cuts

Residents are warning town hall bosses that cutting the hours of communal heating will only add to their stress this winter.

by Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

A woman stands in a kitchen turning on an electric kettle
Resident Tracy Brade who helps residents with emergencies worries about how residents will cope with heating. Photo: Julia Gregory

Islington council decided to cut the hours from 18 to 13 in a bid to manage the mounting energy costs partly fuelled by the invasion of Ukraine. Town hall bosses also decided to end the communal heating two weeks earlier and also delay the time it started to mid October. It said keeping the heating on for most of the day over 36 weeks meant homes were using an average of 18,000 kilowatt hours of gas- 53% more than the average use of 12,000 kilowatt hours.

It told the 4,700 people who get communal heating it would switch it off between 11.30am and 3pm and from 10.30pm to 6am.

The council set up a network of Warm Community Spaces for people to use during the day.

It said they will be “within walking distance of everyone’s front door, offering community-led activities, social connection, access and signposting to support in a warm, welcoming setting. ”

However residents from the Harry Weston Tenant Management Organisation are amongst those warning about the impact on the most vulnerable residents, including people who are seriously ill or getting treatment for cancer.

They also questioned whether people will go out if the weather becomes bitter and face a chilly journey home from Warm Spaces.

The estate off the Caledonian Road was built in the 1970s and has an estimate 500 residents – with some suffering from serious health conditions which makes them vulnerable.

Paul Harris, the chairman of the Harry Weston coop said: ”I’m worried that people are going to struggle.”

He added: “It’s about people’s health and the debt they are going to accrue.”

Resident Tracy Brade who helps neighbours with emergencies on the estate said she is budgeting carefully. She’s seen her electricity which she uses for cooking double from £56 a month to £129 a month and is worried about the increase to communal heating. She said she is already watching how often she boils the kettle and is getting her layers of winter clothes ready but added: “I’m going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul” to make sure she can afford the higher energy costs.

The warm spaces set up by the council are not practical for her. She is a survivor of the 7/7 London bombings when she was travelling on the Piccadilly line close to one of the bombers near Russell Square. The trauma of what happened meant “Home is my safe space. I can’t go out to these warm spaces. It won’t work for me because of what happened.”

She is also concerned that a basement bedroom will be too cold for her son to use. Ms Brade added: “Many people are very very anxious. People are on fixed incomes, others said they have got to be focused on their health and people having serious medical treatment will be affected.”

Mr Harris said the TMO will look at ways to help neighbours weather the coming cold winter months and pointed out that some people will be working at home – during the key times when the heat will be switched off.
Residents from tenant management organisations across Islington recently raised their concerns in an online with housing bosses.

Una O’Halloran, the executive member for housing said the council decided to reduce the hours of communal heating to protect residents from getting by high bills and reduce the impact on the environment. “As global gas prices spiral, we’re taking action to protect our residents with gas communal heating from the worst effects of the cost of living crisis,” she said. “To avoid bills increasing to unsustainable levels, we’re reducing heating hours so less gas is used, and to bring them more in line with how people with individual boilers heat their homes. We’re spending the heating reserve to keep bills down, and carrying out checks to make sure communal heating is working as efficiently as possible.”

The council is facing an energy cost headache as its bils soared from £4m to an estimated £21m.

The rises could have seen residents who get communal heating facing an increase in bills from £10.60 to £52.28 this year.

The council said cutting the hours will see the average weekly bill go up by £6.80, or 64%, to £17.40 from the end of November instead.

Cllr O’Halloran said: “Because of soaring global gas prices, the average weekly cost for communal heating will have to rise, but by a much smaller amount than if we had taken no action. We know many people will still find this difficult to manage. Increasing living costs are a great worry for many of us, and we can offer help and support to people who are struggling.
“We can offer help and support to people with communal heating who are particularly vulnerable, and have been contacting vulnerable residents to see if they need help.”

Residents can refer themselves to the council’s SHINE (Seasonal Health Intervention Network) service for help with bills and energy advice on 0300 555 0195 or 0207 527 2121 or text 07800 006 143, 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

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