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Sunday, 31 August 2014

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Minister asked to step in over Longtown heating bills row

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will be asked to intervene in a long-running row over heating bills.

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Election: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

The minister is to be urged to get involved in a dispute between Riverside housing association and some of its tenants in Longtown.

A total of 175 properties were fitted with a heating system in 2012, designed to be environmentally friendly and efficient by using low levels of mains electricity.

Solar panels were also added to many homes at the same time with the aim that they would generate electricity to sell back to the grid.

This system was installed by Warmer Energy Services, then known as Warmer Heating. However, many tenants have claimed the system has actually led to increased utility bills.

This is compared to what they paid out before for a mixture of energy, such as electricity and coal.

A meeting of Carlisle Tenants and Residents Association was held in Longtown Memorial Hall Community Centre last Thursday to discuss the situation, which led to a resolution to write to Mr Pickles.

A spokesman for the association said: “We have got a resolution to the effect that this thing has gone on for two years and Riverside have done nothing about it.”

He added: “We will write to ask Eric Pickles to launch a serious investigation into the heating system in the hope that this thing can be resolved.”

The spokesman added that the issue was affecting around 60 tenants in Longtown, one of whom has claimed to have received a heating bill for £3,000.

He also expects the numbers affected to increase if new tenants move into vacant properties with the heating system.

“The thing has gone on for two years and people still don’t turn their heating on for fear of these big bills,” he said. “It is life and death for these people.”

In February, Dean Butterworth, Riverside’s divisional director for Cumbria, visited Longtown and said he would do all he could within reason to help tenants in Longtown who have lodged complaints with the organisation.

He also said the heating systems work properly but there may be other issues leading to higher bills.

He also announced the association would bring forward plans to install insulation and replace defective windows and pledged to pay compensation to any affected tenants who can prove that they are out of pocket.

Mr Butterworth also accepted more could be done to educate tenants about how to use the system properly.

A spokeswoman for Riverside confirmed the association would be carrying out improvements to properties and appointing an “affordable warmth officer” to spot and help tenants struggling with fuel bills.

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