Trying to find the energy

Marlowe Road Estate resident Michelle Edwards questions the heating arrangements for new tenants

Last month I wrote about my visit to Hopson House, the newly completed affordable housing block on Marlowe Road Estate. Throughout January, I was inundated with complaints about how the process of moving social tenants there is being managed by Waltham Forest Council.

A prepayment meter at a flat in Hopson House

Prior to the moves, the council’s regeneration team contacted existing residents on the estate and invited them to view the new units. On arrival they were given a short viewing slot, before being told to sign a tenancy agreement on the spot or render themselves ‘intentionally homeless’.

The new tenants were then handed an A4 see-through plastic wallet with 15 documents enclosed. One, which I’ve read, is an eleven-page ‘residential heat supply agreement’ for heating and hot water. Of many disagreeable contract terms, three scream loudly.

Firstly, dictated terms on method of payment; a pay-as-you-go prepayment meter. Having a prepayment meter almost always means paying more than you need to for energy bills. Not only is the unit price for energy more expensive with a prepayment meter, but the cheapest tariffs offered by energy suppliers are usually not made available to prepayment customers.

Secondly, the contract states “the council does not undertake” that the central heating “will be constantly available at a particular temperature or pressure”. How so? Both Public Health England (PHE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend 18°C as a basic level of warmth required for a healthy person.

And finally, payments for the prepayment meter are managed by a third party called EEMonitor, based in Nottingham. Of the residents I spoke with, each has reported problems with the meter. Apparently, the top-ups disappear at an astonishing rate.

One tenant told me he moved in on 12th December to find his meter was already showing a reading of minus £5. Apparently, construction workers had left the heating on. Up to 20th January, the tenant had put £60 on the meter. As a disabled occupant, he can only afford to turn his heating on for one hour per day. In another example, a household had spent £70. The children were told to cut down their showers and only turn the heating on if absolutely necessary. A third resident I met required consoling in the foyer. His mother has a medical condition that affects her bones. In order to keep warm, she stands up against the radiator.

Given there was a government grant of about £1million spent on the provision of an energy efficient network for the new Marlowe Road Estate, none of these stories make any sense. Pretty buildings hiding draconian living conditions for vulnerable communities that even Charles Dickens might scoff at?

I submitted some questions to the council for this article, hoping to clarify some basic stuff such as who the energy supplier actually is. At the time of going to press, there was no reply.

One more point. In a letter, tenants have been offered the services of a removal company “free of cost”. Er, not quite. Steels Removals provides a quote to the council for each job, and the amount is then deducted from the ‘disturbance allowance’ element of the compensation paid to all residents. The wording seems deliberately ambiguous.

Despite all these misgivings, the council unexpectedly announced a plan in January to buy back 66 of the new homes on Marlowe Road Estate from developer Countryside Properties so they can be provided as social homes. One minute they can’t wait to get rid of us – the next they want us back?