Campaign group fears it will take 'someone to die' before soaring heating bills are addressed in Falkirk

A campaign group fighting to help residents affected by a historic problem with their heating system has hit out at authorities saying it will take “someone to die” before action is taken.

By Kirsty Paterson LDR
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 8:54 am
Updated Thursday, 9th December 2021, 8:55 am

More than 700 homes in villages across Falkirk have struggled with ‘extortionate’ heating bills since new electric heating systems were installed to replace coal fires around 10 years ago.

With huge rises in energy prices, the Thermaflow systems are now costing residents as much as £25 in a single day.

But despite that, residents say the inefficient system does not heat their homes.

Campaigners have been fighting for something to be done about the high heating costs for years now

As winter storms hit with force last week, many of those affected say they have been left freezing with heating systems that don’t work, despite paying up to £150 a week.

Earlier this year, Falkirk Council announced that they will be installing gas in several of the villages affected – but that work now looks likely to take at least two years.

The council also gives tenants on very low incomes some financial help – but the campaigners behind Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages say there are many people who are working yet increasingly struggling to keep up with the sky-high costs.

Single mum Adele McDonald, who works part-time, says all of her wages now go on heating her house in Slamannan – and yet it is still never warm.

“Right now the electricity is costing between £80-£120 a week – so basically, that’s my wages gone,” she said.

“My mum and dad are having to help me pay the electricity but they shouldn’t have to do that.”

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Adele, who has four children, says that as she is working she is not eligible for help – she pays full rent – and the latest rises are hitting hard.

“Last year, I was just about coping but this year, I just don’t know – it’s freezing and the kids are living upstairs because that’s a bit warmer.”

“My oldest daughter is asthmatic and the cold doesn’t help her at all – last week she was ill so she had to go to my auntie’s for a week to recover.”

Another tenant, Fiona, who lives in Avonbridge says she is now spending £150 a week on electricity.

“I put £30 in the meter yesterday – and it’s just run out!” she said.

But the soaring energy prices are just one part of the picture – despite paying thousands every year, the houses are never warm.

Fiona’s front door leaks badly, making it even more difficult to heat the house.

And her system is so inadequate that if she turns the heating on she can’t get any hot water.

While the Braes tenants have been promised new doors and windows in February many say they need more help before then.

Fiona, who preferred not to give her second name, works full-time as does her partner so they do not get any financial help.

“I just can’t afford to live in this house,” she said. “I am just absolutely sick of living like this.”

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Another Slamannan resident, Siobhan Bell, says she is now using a calor gas heater in the living room to give her children somewhere warm to sit.

Siobhan, who has six children including her step-children, says that her own childhood asthma has returned.

“I don’t even put my heating on now,” she said. “I just can’t afford it.”

Several residents admit that they are now facing rent arrears because of the situation.

Campaigners behind Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages say these are just some of the stories of misery they are hearing.

Claire Mackie said: “The costs are going up every year and with the cost of energy at the moment, people are really struggling even more.”

In previous years, after a public meeting with Scottish Power’s head of retail, the company did agree to make winter payments to help out.

But despite repeated requests from the campaigners, there is no sign of any help this year.

“They were never anywhere near enough to cover the costs – and they were also a nightmare to get hold of for many people – but for some people they are a lifeline.

“We’re also asked Falkirk Council repeatedly for help for everyone – not just those deemed to be on low income,” said Claire.

“Given the dire situation that people have been put on at the hands of Falkirk Council, that help should be offered to everybody that’s affected by the system.

“It’s going to take someone to die before Falkirk Council and Scottish Power are held accountable for this fuel poverty crisis.”

A spokesperson for the council said: “Falkirk Council is offering a one-off payment of £100 to households in receipt of Council Tax Reduction and living in an off-gas area.

“Eligible households will have received a letter from the Council informing them of this support and we are contacting households directly to arrange payments.

“We are aware that fuel costs are an issue for other households not eligible for this support, however our budget is limited and we need to prioritise support to those most in need.

“There is support and advice available on home energy and welfare benefits to ensure that people are claiming what they are entitled to.”

Scottish Power has been contacted for a comment.

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