Falkirk villagers turn up the heat as ScottishPower says it will investigate high bills

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High power costs and a reportedly inadequate boiler system are forcing hundreds of residents in Falkirk villages to have to choose between heating their homes or feeding their family.

Now organisers of the recently formed Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages – Ending Fuel Poverty group are extending an open invitation to ScottishPower, Falkirk Council and Cumbernauld based firm Neat Heat, the installers of the heating system, to meet with residents and try to explain why their bills are so extraordinarily high – some report it is costing them up to £150 a week – and why their heating is so ineffective.

The group’s online petition, which now has over 800 signatures, is demanding an investigation into the rising costs for the THERMAflow heating system the council recommended be installed in their homes.

According to the THERMAflow website, the heating system, which has been installed in homes in the area since 2010, is “leading the way in reducing fuel poverty” and can reduce running costs by automated use of off peak electricity. It also claims the system is more efficient than oil, LPG, solid fuel and storage heaters.

However, that is not something the 70 or so people who attended a public meeting, organised by Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages founders Claire Mackie and Fiona Gordon, in Slamannan Bowling Club on Monday night, agreed with.

“When we go to ScottishPower they say it’s a problem with the heating system and when we go to Falkirk Council or Neat Heat we are told it’s Scottish Power’s fault. No one is taking responsibility for this.”

Another resident said he had put £12,000 in his meter over the last five years, adding: “I spend more on heating the house than I do on food.”

Of the 70 or so households represented, it was estimated between them they had paid a total of £200,000 to heat their homes. There were reports of people who actually pay as much as £150 per week to heat their house.

One resident said she was told by ScottishPower she was £1500 in debt, but she questioned how could she be in debt if she pays with heating cards.

ScottishPower’s tariff increases are also causing concern – in 2010 the standing charge cost 11.78p per unit and this increased to 22.47p per unit in 2019. The off peak charge has also gone up from 5.54p per unit to 15.73p.

The other problem identified is it is difficult to come up with a hard and fast figure for cost per unit because there are so many ScottishPower variables, including direct debit, price fixing length and online tariffs.

When you visit ScottishPower online and search FK postcodes the first standard tariff that comes up for domestic and economy 2000 on a monthly direct debit for an online account gives 23.70p per day for standing charge, a day unit rate of 17.605p per kWh and a cheap night unit rate of 15.738p per kWh.

Residents claim ScottishPower also make things “difficult” whenever someone tries to switch to another energy provider.

A householder stated: “Two years ago Falkirk Council sent letters out giving us news on this new eco heating system to replace our coal fire. It was meant to be the best and would save you pounds compared to buying coal.

“A lot of residents went for this only to find out they were getting charged £110 to £150 a week on a prepaid meter as the meter we all have in place is not compatible with the heating system.

“I know this as a member of staff has admitted this to me. We moved into our house last November and I was instructed by Neat Heat I had to phone ScottishPower and ask to be put on an economy 2000 meter as the heating system would cost us a lot of money as the meter is only designed for lights, not appliances.

“I phoned only to be told the correct meter is out of stock and would be back soon. After phoning for just about a full year it’s still out of stock. Since last year I have got myself in so much debt with them as I have had to phone up for advances.

“I am on Universal Credit and get around £349 per month – it just can’t be done. ScottishPower are not interested and my credit history has been affected as well. Falkirk Council are just as bad.

“You would think before they fitted this new amazing heating system they would have had the correct meters in place and now they wonder why people can’t afford the rent. I know – it’s because we are all chucking money at this heating system they gave us that costs you around £4 just to take a bath.”

One resident was reportedly told by Falkirk Council if she cannot afford to heat the house then she will lose her tenancy.

“People are having to choose between heating their house or feeding their family,” said a householder.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “These Council homes are in areas with no gas supply and the previous heating systems were a mixture of coal central heating and electric storage heating.

“Ten years ago we started to replace these old systems with an electric wet radiator system. At the time of installation, the ScottishPower Economy 2000 tariff for this system was the most economical offering 18 hours of off peak electricity with a unit rate of approximately 5p/kwh.

“The Council has no influence on the costs utility companies charge and over the last few years the cost of electricity has risen significantly. The off peak rate is now approximately 15p/kwh which has impacted greatly on the fuel bills that our tenants now pay.

“As part of our investment programme cavity wall insulation/external wall insulation, loft insulation and new roofing have been installed to improve the thermal efficiency within our homes in a bid to reduce fuel costs.

“We are currently working with Home Energy Scotland to hold a number of information events for all residents within off gas areas. They can offer free, impartial energy and tariff advice and provide guidance and tips on how to reduce fuel consumption.”

Jay Curtis, Neat Heat maintenance manager, said: “We are currently making arrangements to discuss these issues with Falkirk Council. Most of these boilers around the Falkirk area have been fitted for around seven to eight years now but recently there is a massive uproar arising about bills.

“This is due to ScottishPower and various other energy providers drastically increasing electricity costs over a short period of time. The THERMAflow boilers are not the problem, this has happened with all electric appliances, people cannot afford to run the heating long enough to get their homes to a comfortable temperature but this is not the boiler that is causing this.”

There was not much in the way of a response from ScottishPower as The Falkirk Herald went to press, despite being informed of residents’ dire situation and the large number of critical comments being levelled against the energy provider about impact of the high heating costs.

Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, a ScottishPower spokesperson simply said: “ScottishPower will investigate the matter.”