Flats on an estate were left without heating and hot water in sub-zero temperatures after pre-payment meters were turned on by mistake.

Islington Council told residents at Hathersage Court that the pre-payment meters installed in their flats last year would not be turned on amid fears that energy costs would rise on the estate.

But after temperatures dropped below freezing on Monday morning (January 23) some residents woke up to discover that their pre-payment meters had been switched on anyway, leaving them without heating and hot water.

Most residents of the block, which has 69 flats, had heating and hot water restored by the end of the day, but a decision has not yet been made about the payment system the estate will now use.

Households on pre-payment meters typically pay more for their energy, raising fears at Hathersage Court that some residents would be left worse off.

New government regulations require meters to be installed in certain homes attached to a communal heating system. This is to ensure that households pay for the energy they actually use.

Paula Beattie, who has lived in the block for eight years, said residents were shocked when they were told in a letter on January 7 that the meters that have been placed inside their flats would be pre-payment. About half of the meters had been installed already.

She said: “We were initially quite happy with the idea of meters because we thought we’d be paying for what we used, rather than paying a flat fee.

“But then we received letters saying that they were pre-payment meters.”

Another resident added: “Receiving the letter after all our conversations with the council left me stressed and worried.

“We have had such poor communication and I know other residents share my fear that we wouldn’t be able to afford heating at these costs.”

Residents estimated that, because their communal heating systems were not protected by the government’s energy price cap, the planned cost of energy per unit would have been 60% higher than the Energy Price Guarantee.

After national newspaper The Guardian reported on the installation of the pre-payment meters, the council contacted residents to say they would no longer be switched on.

But Paula says that this did not happen. She explained: “Lo and behold the council forgot to tell the energy provider not to activate the pre-payment meters, so they were all turned on.

“It got picked up very quickly by somebody who is an early riser, and so the remedy has been for the provider to put credit on our meters while it’s sorted out.

“Unfortunately, there’s one or two residents that this didn’t happen for, so they’re still without heating and hot water.”

Paula said it was now time for the council to properly discuss alternative options with residents.

Cllr Una O’Halloran, Islington Council’s executive member for homes and communities, said: “The Government is making all councils install heat meters in homes connected to communal heating systems that meet certain criteria. There are two options available – prepayment and monthly credit billing.

“We have listened to residents’ concerns at Hathersage Court about the way they pay for their heat in future, and while we discuss these options with them, we are pausing the implementation of the scheme so we can fully address any concerns. 

“While we told residents in Hathersage Court last summer that they would be moving to pay-as-you-go meters, the communications around this should have been clearer.

“We are sorry that some residents were not aware, and will improve our communications in future schemes.” 

Islington Council confirmed that other housing blocks in the borough with communal heating systems use pre-payment meters.

These include Aubert Court and the Dehli Outram Estate, which have both had operational pre-payment meters for more than a decade.

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