Mary Quinn, 52, from South Alloa, who is being driven into debt, attended a protest on Saturday outside council headquarters to demand action over massive bills for inefficient heating systems.
Despite having a brain aneurysm and kidney problems, Mary works seven days, in a bookmakers and local bar, just to pay her electricity bill, she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. Most of her wages go on electricity.
Even fellow campaigners from Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages were shocked to hear that Mary is paying £1,500 a month for power, heating and hot water.
Mary, a mother-of-two, said: “Since October, I have been paying £50 a day – I am just so stressed, I go to bed at night and I don’t want to wake up.
“I just can’t handle it any more,” she added.
She is one of 700 Falkirk Council tenants who live in areas that do not have gas and so have electric heating systems called Thermaflow.
These were installed 10 years ago, but in the last three years a series of energy price rises has left tenants facing bills that even those in full-time work struggle to pay.
The latest price increase in October means many tenants are now literally having to choose between eating properly and heating their homes.
And despite bills that are regularly £150 every week, tenants say their homes are still not warm.
The situation is made even worse as the area is in line to get new windows and doors – but Covid has delayed the start of their installation.
Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages campaign took their protest to Falkirk Council’s headquarters on Saturday to demand more help, especially over the winter months.
While Falkirk Council has agreed to install gas in many of the areas affected, in Mary’s tiny village there are just two homes with the controversial system.
She has been told that her boiler is not suitable for her three-bedroom house. The council has promised she will get a new electric heating system.
Her house has even been measured – but with no firm date set to install the new system, she says that the amount she is spending on electricity right now is driving her into debt.
She said: “When I spoke to Scottish Power they told me I should do my washing after 11pm, then asked if I had a tumble drier or a hot tub?
“I said ‘don’t be silly – I don’t even have a television.'”
Making another attempt to get help, she was advised to speak to a debt advisor.
She said: “I don’t have any other debt – the debt I have is because most of my wages go on electricity.”
Also at the demo was Lynne Reid, from Whitecross.
She is angry at all the promises that have been made and broken and says her health is suffering badly due to the cold.
She said: “If we run the Thermaflow system the way it is supposed to be run, it costs an absolute fortune – you are talking in excess of £150 a week.
“At this time of year, we are choosing whether to eat healthily or heat our homes.
“I am disabled but I use a hot water bottle and blankets to keep warm.
“And that’s with my partner working full-time.”
“We have been promised gas heating but so far there is no word on when it is to happen – but it needs to happen now, not in a year or two.”
The campaign organiser, Claire Mackie, says Falkirk Council must do more to help those affected.
She said: “Poor decisions by Falkirk Council have impacted people’s lives to the point that they can’t feed their families.
“We can’t go on like this – we need action now, we need financial support and we need them to take accountability.”
A ScottishPower spokesperson said: “We’re very sorry to hear of the stress Ms Quinn has been facing. As soon as these heating systems, installed by Falkirk Council, are replaced the better it will be for the residents like Ms Quinn.
“Ms Quinn’s energy usage has increased slightly compared to last year, this, coupled with the significant increase in energy costs being seen across the UK has resulted in the higher bills she is experiencing.”
A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “A housing officer will contact Mrs Quinn to discuss her situation and provide details of any benefits and support available to help with her energy costs.”