Driven stair crazy by tenement numbering - Helen Martin

Utility companies based outside Scotland are bamboozled by traditional system of numbering flats 1F1, 4F3  and so on (Picture: Sean Bell)Utility companies based outside Scotland are bamboozled by traditional system of numbering flats 1F1, 4F3  and so on (Picture: Sean Bell)
Utility companies based outside Scotland are bamboozled by traditional system of numbering flats 1F1, 4F3 and so on (Picture: Sean Bell)
For once I’d like to write a piece that isn’t about UK elections, Brexit and its results, the pandemic and how it’s being dealt with, plunging economies, political mayhem, local Council objections, and the Scottish election.

One of my long-term tenants has inspired me to come up with a topic that has nothing to do with any of these major issues. It’s about our country’s tenements (especially in Edinburgh), how traditionally the flats were officially numbered, how numbers were changed and how residents and tenants are suffering.

The original system was, of course, 1F2 (second flat from the stair on floor one) or 4F3 (third flat on the fourth floor). It didn’t apply to more modern flat blocks, but its accuracy for identifying a tenement flat was, and still is, favoured by all Scottish councils, as I’ve discovered several times.

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Over many decades 19th and early 20th century tenements have been sold and taken over by private buyers and “refurbishers” who have changed the numbers to “1, 2, 3” etc. One problem is that these numbers don’t necessarily match the original layout. Council explanations include: “For the traditional tenement numbering system, flats are allocated numbers in the form 1F1, 1F2, etc. 1F1 should be interpreted as 1st Floor, Flat 1. The rotation of the internal numbers follows the rotation of the staircase, with the highest number being located at the door furthest from the last riser on the stair.”

That’s familiar to Scottish people and especially to postmen and women, and tradesmen who can identify each flat whether it does, or doesn’t, have the number on its door. My maintenance manager told me he was trying to get into an empty number 1 flat for assessment one early morning, but discovered it was flat 2 and occupied, because all the flat numbers were mixed up from the traditional system.

Years ago, I wanted gas removed from a tenement flat 2F2. The gas engineers arrived but said they couldn’t do the work because their list had it numbered as 10. The Council were keen to change it back to 2F2, and wished everyone else in the tenement did the same.

The problem affecting more people in Scotland is that call centres and employees of utility firms, for example, who are based in England or overseas, don’t understand the Scottish tenement system. I had a distressed painter working in my house who said he was being hit with electrical bills which were not his. The debtor was in flat 1F2, but he was in flat 2F1. The utility firm didn’t understand they were different flats.

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Right now, my long-term tenant who lives in flat 3F2 is being hit with bills intended for flat 3 (on the second floor) who owe their previous supplier, EDF, and their new supplier, Shell. Her own supplier, British Gas, can’t deal with that, and she can’t speak to the two billing utilities because her name isn’t logged as their customer! Her only solution is to contact the Energy Ombudsman.

It would be useful to know how many people have been stressed with mistaken debt because of this so councils, governments or utility firms would be forced to solve it – and how?

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