Council that threatened tenants with eviction over heating bills delayed passing on £1m subsidy

A council that threatened tenants with eviction if they could not afford a 350 per cent hike in energy bills has failed to credit them with a £1million Government subsidy for more than 12 months.

In April last year, 3,437 Lambeth council properties with heat networks – which use a communal boiler with a fixed rate for all tenants – faced the steep rise in costs, with some paying £80 a week for heating and water alone. 

Lambeth said the price increases were driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Due to the council’s long-term contract with heating providers, these did not reduce until this April.

The local authority is facing demands to pay compensation to residents who say they have been forced into poverty with many served eviction notices over thousands of pounds worth of rent arrears.

Kirsty Oliveira, 56, who lives in China Walk, Kennington, received a notice seeking possession from the council in September 2023, followed by a court letter on January 11. 

She said: “People have been suffering with terrible depression and anxiety thinking they’re going to be evicted.

“The council has not evicted anyone but at what expense – people are only meeting their payments because they have stopped eating or are using their disability benefits.”

Ms Oliveira (right) runs a food bank on the estate each Tuesday, which she said has been much busier since energy bills went up (Picture: Kirsty Oliveira)

But the council failed to reflect the Government’s energy bills discount scheme, which launched last year to cap price rises for heating network customers. 

According to campaign group Heat Trust, the council submitted incomplete applications for the discount scheme which were kept on hold.

Stephen Knight, the director of Heat Trust, told the South London Press that he repeatedly contacted the council to factor in the subsidy when calculating energy charges last year. 

The discount was finally secured when Mr Knight involved the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ).

Residents have only now been informed that they are entitled to a share of a £1million subsidy.

Ms Oliveira said: “We never heard about the refund, which only covers about 10 per cent of our bills.

“I got the payment of £380 in my bank account last week without any explanation.”

Ms Oliveira said that she had been in touch with Mr Knight so knew what the payment was for, but fears that other tenants will not.

She said: “I called the council and the person on the phone couldn’t tell me what the payment was for.

Residents have received notices seeking possession after not being able to afford the steep rise in energy bills (Picture: Rachel Luke)

“Lambeth has a shocking lack of empathy.”

Lambeth council confirmed it will be writing to residents to inform them of the payments they will be receiving, with leaseholders set to receive the credit in September as part of their annual service charges.

Mr Knight said: “It is frustrating that it has taken so long and that many have suffered the stress of falling into arrears over the past year. 

“The Chancellor promised in Spring 2023 that this subsidy scheme would deliver around £380million of support to heat network consumers nationally but only about £62million has yet to be paid out.

“This case has also highlighted the need for future regulations to ensure that no one faces threats of eviction for falling behind with heating bills.”

A spokesman from Lambeth council said the authority had applied for the Government discount last July, just before the application deadline, and claimed it had offered extended payment plans to help struggling residents.

A spokesman from Lambeth council said: “After a lengthy approval process, the DESNZ has informed us that we have been awarded a total discount of £1,046,000. 

“We know that the rises came at a particularly difficult time for our residents, and we have worked hard to support all those affected.”

Pictured top: Kirsty Oliveira, manager of the community hall, and foodbank on the estate in China Walk (Picture: Kirsty Oliveira)

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