Monday, 22 December 2014

What a taste of fuel poverty has felt like

I've now begun week 2 now with no heating.

It wasn't simply about getting a gas fitter.  Once l got one he spent two days trying different bits in the boiler but finished by wrapping black and yellow tape all over it and danger signs.  (My kitchen now now looks like a CSI crime scene.  I feel guilty that my wife and l have done something wrong every time l go in the kitchen.)

Last year colleagues spent a night in cardboard boxes outdoors to highlight homelessness.  I think what I'm going through with no heating for 2 weeks so far, and possibly nothing until early 2015 is a very different experience.

I feel that l have a better understanding now of fuel poverty.  My admiration for people who deal with this as part of their daily lives has gone up considerably over the last fortnight.

We've finding we are living in just the one room and feel decreasingly like doing anything apart from keeping warm.  We can only keep one room warm enough to use.  We're still washing but this is a deeply unpleasant experience in the cold.  What must it be like if you can't afford hot water on a regular basis?

Getting out of bed is harder.  you know it is going to be unpleasant.  Again, living with this would be hard.

Pyscologically, what is debilitating is not knowing an end date for your suffering - again part of the issue for many people in fuel poverty on a daily basis.

A night out doors in a cardboard box is a tough test - and a window on homelessness.  If you want to get an idea of fuel poverty try pulling the fuse out of your heating system for a week in December.

Monday, 15 December 2014

central heating charge spares you that cold service feeling

I've spent a lot of time over the years discussing the central heating charge. This is a charge that used to be £3 per week, but was reduced to £2 per week a couple of years ago. Essentially, not all properties have central heating - although Decent Homes has given the vast majority this facility. Unlike in some other places, central heating is not included in the rent, so there is a charge to cover the extra cost of providing this as a service.

What's made me reflect more over the last few days on the central heating charge is that I've had no heating at home since last Tuesday. I've got my fingers crossed for tomorrow, but Wednesday is probably more likely for getting things working again. The novelty of going to bed in gloves and a woolly hat is beginning to wear off.

When you're not a council tenant it feels a bit like being thrown to the wolves when it comes to central heating. You're faced with a list of small adds for gas repairs and it is pot luck whether you get a good one, a bad one or a rip off merchant.

Out of despairation on Friday night l even phoned British Gas. Up to last week l was thinking BG users had to have more money than sense - but after 3 days with no heating l was beginning to break down myself.

British Gas said they'd charge £220 fixed price for a one off repair. This is hardly 'emergency' treatment. They said their target was 48 hours to come and have a look. If parts were needed they'd have to book a return visit. It wasn't going to be £220 to get it sorted immediately. It was £220 to get it sorted some time. In terms of a cost comparision I was pretty sure it was an ignition problem (£100 all in was my guess using an independent guy).

When it came to it, l never found out how long it would have taken with BG, they never even bothered to phone me back with a likely appointment time - so much for service.

I must say BG didn't excite me. Their all in charge was £240 per year. However, 'all in' wouldn't replace the heating system or necessarily pay for all parts. If you read the small print as well the £240 is a 'from £240' price. This can go higher dependent on repairs history. In other words they could bump up your charge next year if you call them out!

All in all:

  • independent gas fitters are cheaper but it comes at a price - you could wait a long time (like l'm doing at the moment, and it isn't fixed yet).
  • a BG contract could involve paying £240 per year just for a service and nothing else
  • If you actually have things go wrong if you have a BG contract they can always bump up your charge next year.
So based on the above, £2 per week as the central heating charge for wolverhampton tenants seems a good deal to me when compared to private sector charges. If anyone out there reading this is a gas fitter and wants to offer me a central heating servicing, a replacement boiler and unlimited repairs for £2 per week, please let me know.