‘Collectively organise’: Tenants’ union wins concessions from energy giant

The Wyndford Tenants’ Union has secured a number of agreements with SSE, following their campaign against changes to local heating charges which activists argue have accentuated fuel poverty

  • Wyndford Tenants’ Union formed after changes were made to the Wyndford District Heating System, which replaced pay-as-you-go meters with quarterly energy payments, and increased the daily standing charge for heating
  • SSE will now consider expanding the criteria for low-user tariffs, potentially allowing more residents to escape meter rentals and standing charges
  • The union vow to hold SSE to their pledge not to disconnect any residents’ heating during winter

THE Wyndford Tenants Union (WTU) has secured a series of agreements with the Scottish energy giant SSE, following a campaign against a local heating scheme which activists argued was increasing fuel poverty in their Glasgow estate.

The WTU – which is allied with the nationwide Living Rent tenants’ union - was formed by residents of the Maryhill community following a backlash against changes to the Wyndford District Heating System (WDHS) introduced in 2012, which is now relied upon by 1,800 of Wyndford’s roughly 1,900 households and is overseen by SSE.

Chief amongst their concerns were the increase in the daily standing charge for heating from 44p to 48p, and the replacement of pay-as-you-go meters with quarterly energy payments – changes which provoked protests outside the offices of Cube, the Wyndford Housing Association.

Earlier this year, CommonSpace reported that one Wyndford resident, Scott Carroll, broke down after being unable to switch his heating on in his flat, following a period in hospital with pneumonia.

READ MORE: Wyndford tenants win fuel poverty negotiations with housing association after direct action

Following the first of a series of negotiations between the WTU, SSE and Cube, the tenants union has announced that their campaign efforts have won a number of concessions.

It has now been agreed that SSE will consider opening up the criteria of the low-user tariff – which has no standing charges or meter rental attached – to include more local residents, and that SSE will roll out pay-as-you-go prepayment meters – which allow you to programme your usage, and restrict the amount of money spent in a month - over the summer, but only for those residents who want them.

Additionally, SSE will offer prepayment meters instead of disconnection. The energy provider has stated that they will never cut anyone off in winter – a pledge the WTU has said they will hold SSE to.

Meetings have also been agreed, one of which will inform residents about the new settlement and help neighbours decide what works best for them, while a series of monthly face-to-face meetings will allow residents to query their bills or speak to SSE directly.

Meanwhile, Cube will run a door chapping campaign to try to extend its welfare and money advice service, and its specialist debt advisors for tenants who are struggling at the moment. WTU will work with Cube to highlight these Cube services, and will work with Cube to help vulnerable tenants stay connected or get reconnected with their heating.

READ MORE: Freezing through winter, but fighting back with the union: Scott's story

Speaking to CommonSpace, a spokesperson for SSE confirmed the accuracy of the WTU’s announcement, but stressed that issues such as low user tariff and monthly meetings remain in the discussion stage, and have not definitively been decided upon.

The spokesperson commented: “SSE will continue to work with WTU and our partners Cube to look at how we can best help any residents with issues regarding debt. We would urge any residents with any concerns to contact SSE direct.”

Nick Durie, speaking on behalf of the WTU and Living Rent, told CommonSpace: “We started this campaign because tenants had come to us, having had their key meters removed. Now, that put a lot of people into debt, because they’d been running their finances on a week-to-week basis, and suddenly they were faced with a quarterly bill.

“As we began investigating the issue, we could see that not only did some tenants – particularly poorer tenants – want pre-payment meters, but that the previous pre-payment meter had left a lot to be desired. They’d almost been running it like a quarterly bill, where they would reconcile how much a tenant would need to pay week-to-week on a quarterly basis. So we wanted pre-payment meters brought back in, and they’ve agreed to that.

“District heating schemes like this are expanding, and it’s not just SSE that provides them. I would urge tenants everywhere to join Living Rent, and to collectively organise their neighbourhoods.” WTU activist Nick Durie

“Secondly, the more canvassing we did, the more we found people who really didn’t have any money at all spare to spend. The main portion of their bill was standing charges, and a number of these people didn’t qualify for the existing low-user tariffs, which we’d won from previous negotiations. So, the main take-home from that negotiation was that SSE have agreed to widen the criteria to access the low-user tariff, which has no standing charges associated with it, and to bring in pre-payment meters.

Speaking about further negotiations scheduled to take place later this month, Durie said: “For us, the question is the criteria on the low-user tariff. We want as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of that. At the moment, to access the low-user tariff, you have to be on the Warm Homes Discount scheme, which I think the UK Government has scrapped, but that was the criteria – you basically have to be a pensioner, on benefits, or vulnerable in some other way. That leaves out a whole load of low-paid workers who would benefit from that scheme. So we’re keen to make sure the criteria is as wide as possible.

“We’re blessed on one level, because it’s a collective issue automatically. Normally, utilities providers are a market decision – you choose whether you want SSE, Scottish Power… You choose. The market ideology of these things is that, if you’re paying over the odds, it’s you’re fault. The difference in the Wyndford is that no one can opt out; you’re all together. But district heating schemes like this are expanding, and it’s not just SSE that provides them. I would urge tenants everywhere to join Living Rent, and to collectively organise their neighbourhoods.”

Concerns over fuel poverty – which is defined as being when a household is spending more than ten per cent of its income on energy costs – have grown in recent years, with the Scottish House Condition Survey finding that 613,000 people (24.9 per cent) in Scotland are currently in fuel poverty. The Scottish Government’s Fuel Poverty Bill will reaches Stage 3 proceedings at Holyrood on 6 June.

Picture courtesy of the Wyndford Tenants Union

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