Flats get free energy bills as council pays £30k

Tenants in the Niddrie towers are turning up the gas as the energy is currently free. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Tenants in the Niddrie towers are turning up the gas as the energy is currently free. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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HUNDREDS of toasty tenants have been firing up the heating and running steamy baths free of charge for more than a year – with the council footing the bill.

The city has paid up to £30,000 heating 170 flats in two Niddrie tower blocks while “final works and testing” are completed on a new £2.1 million communal boiler said to have been installed last October.

Residents have been sizzling in “Costa del Sol” like temperatures and are yet to receive a single bill.

City chiefs have admitted forking out for the heating – which they say will end “sometime in the New Year” – but have so far failed to fully explain why the tower blocks are being gifted energy when many hard-pressed families are struggling with soaring fuel prices.

A council tenant at Wauchope House, who declined to be identified, said residents had been “living it up” on the free heating and neither block had “ever been so warm”.

“Walk into any of the tower blocks and it’s boiling because everyone’s been taking advantage and got their heating on full blast,” she said.

“It’s like the Costa del Sol. Even the few days when I don’t have my heating on it’s roasting in my flat with the heat coming from above and below – and I’m on one of the top floors. You can fire the thermostat right up to 25 degrees or as high as you want and leave it on for as long as you want.

“It won’t be cold this winter in Greendykes.”

It comes against a backdrop of soaring energy prices which are rising at up to eight times the rate of earnings, the latest figures show.

Analysis by Citizens Advice forecasts that by next month, the big six suppliers will have increased their prices by 37 per cent since October 2010.

Tory housing convener Councillor Jason Rust branded the free-energy blocks a 
“ludicrous situation” that was “highly disturbing” because the council “doesn’t appear to know what the outcome will be or when it will end”.

He said: “There are council tenants across the city who aren’t in this situation and have been paying their own fuel bills in full as one would expect, and I think they will no doubt feel pretty aggrieved at this set-up.”

Echoing this view, Cllr Steve Burgess, the housing spokesman for Edinburgh Greens, insisted “serious questions” had to be asked.

He said: “Energy prices and fuel poverty have soared up the list of public concerns in recent months and the last thing already hard-pressed families need is to have worries about heating bills hanging over them. The city council needs urgently to say when the system problem will be sorted and when tenants have a clear indication of what they will have to pay in future.”

Former housing convener and Lib Dem leader at City Chambers, Cllr Paul Edie, said while some tenants were enjoying free energy there would be others losing out as a result.

“Someone is picking up the tab somewhere on this because it’s coming out of other tenants’ rents,” he said. “It doesn’t strike me that this project is running as tightly as it ought to be.”

In a statement, housing vice-convener Cllr Cammy Day, said the city was paying £20 per month per family in heating costs until “final works” on a new energy efficient heating system were completed.

He said: “Tenants will be notified in advance of when they will have to start paying the charges for this new, cheaper heating system and given advice about how to use it as efficiently as possible.”

Prices keep on rising

News that the city has spent up to £30,000 heating two 15-storey tower blocks may surprise families who have seen year-on-year energy prices soar.

The average price of gas and electricity paid by UK households has risen by about 18 per cent and nine per cent respectively in real terms since 2010, and by about 41 per cent and 20 per cent in real terms since 2007.

A series of recent energy price hikes by the six major suppliers has continued to put the issue at the centre of political debate.

Residents at Wauchope House and Greendykes House have spoken with relief that their energy bills will not be backdated or charged retrospectively after claiming to have been “in the dark” about the lack of contact from their energy supplier.

Many said the prospect of “free energy” had not “sat well with [their] conscience”.