Islington Council accused of ‘theft’ over central heating charges

Islington Town Hall

Islington Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Council tenants on benefits are paying as much as £450 more on their energy bills than private landlords living on the same estates.

Caroline Russell: 'You can't just wash you hands of these kids'

Caroline Russell: 'You can't just wash you hands of these kids' - Credit: Archant

Council tenants on benefits are paying as much as £450 more on their energy bills than private landlords living on the same estates.

Islington council said that rates were higher for tenants because the charges were calculated on projected heating costs – and that surplus money would be stored to guard against a hike in heating prices in the future.

Under the communal system, most council tenants only have central heating for 18 hours a day, seven months a year – while leaseholders can use their heating all year round.

Tenants were told they could get a rebate in the future, but at a meeting between the council and the tenants management organisations last week tenants accused the council of “theft” and “playing god”.

Cllr James Murray 2

Cllr James Murray 2 - Credit: Archant

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Michelle Car, chair of Brooke Park tenants management organisation, said: “That’s theft, that’s our money that we’ve paid.

“If the gas companies did that to individuals there would be an outcry.

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“You haven’t got the right not to give a rebate without consultation, you can’t play god with our money, you’re not the bank of England you’re Islington Council – we could be dead in five years time, and you’ve got our money.”

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that leaseholders in a four bedroom flat who get their heating and hot water from the Mackenzie Road boiler room in Holloway only paid £301.37, £450 less than council tenants in a comparable sized home and still £186 less than council tenants living in a studio flat.

Only at two out of 39 communal heating boiler rooms did leaseholders pay more than council tenants in 2013/14.

Thomas Cooper, chair of the tenants management organisation for Spa Green estate and a leaseholder, has already informed the council that his estate intends to opt out of what he called their “communist” approach to heating.

“There’s so much wrong with it. It’s hundreds of pounds in the difference, said Mr Cooper.

“As a tax payer I have no issue subsidising those who can’t help themselves but I do have an issue with that money being used for them to pay over the odds on heating.

“The tenants are effectively giving the council an interest free loan, and then the leaseholders are receiving an interest free loan from the council.”

Tenants raised several other issues with the council’s communal central heating systems at the meeting ranging from inadequate insulation to children and elderly people becoming ill because they were not able to use their central heating at night.

Cllr Caroline Russell, the council’s Green Party opposition who was at the meeting, said: “The council should listen to tenants and repay the money over charged last year for heating costs. Every penny makes a difference when budgets are tight.

“The way the council aggregates heating bills for tenants and leaseholders is rightly causing concern. Tenants on well insulated estates are paying more than leaseholders who pay the actual cost of the energy used. Tenants instead end up having to subsidise the cost of bills in less well insulated households, which means they are lumped with higher energy costs.

“For many living in fuel poverty being stuck with higher energy bills is a real stretch on budgets. The council needs to urgently take action by insulating poorly insulated homes and not landing council housing tenants with inflated energy bills.”

Cllr James Murray, executive member for housing and development, said: “For legal reasons, we have to calculate and charge tenants and leaseholders differently for their heating.

“We average out the costs of communal heating across estates so that tenants with less efficient heating systems don’t end up paying more.

“At the end of this financial year, we’re expecting to have a surplus in the account which will allow us to freeze tenants’ heating charges for next year at current levels, even if the cost of gas increases.”

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