Message from TRA to Hackney

Email sent 25 January 2021

Dear Annette and Bronwen

The TRA wanted to raise / follow up on a few issues relating to heating and hot water in the new build flats.   Whilst there has been a specific issue with the heating / hot water yesterday / today (which has now been fixed) there are some more general concerns at the moment.   Some of these have been touched on at recent ETRA meetings, and we know that you are both currently putting together some information from the energy team for residents.
1. Responsibility for heating / hot water emergencies
Emley mentioned earlier today that residents who reported the fact that there was no heating or hot water last night received a range of responses as to who was responsible and whether anything could be done outside of office hours.  The emergency number that some people called did not seem to know how to deal with this, and I understand that nothing was actually done until 8am this morning.  That was frustrating for everyone as it had been raised as an urgent issue the previous evening, and the engineer didn’t then arrive until lunchtime.
(By the way, it was great that residents got sent text messages / emails with updates directly.)
As well as that issue,  residents would be grateful to know what the service level agreement is around emergency heating repairs.  Is there an agreed approach on how quickly an engineer will be called – for example, if the issue is reported in the evening or at the weekend? If this had happened on friday night (rather than sunday night) when would residents have been able to expect the system would be investigated and fixed?  As so many hundreds of residents depend on the communal system for heating and hot water, and have no control over getting it fixed, we’d expect the system not working to always be treated as an emergency and dealt with accordingly, but don’t know if that is the position or what that involves in terms of timescales?
It would also be helpful if the number of times per year this happens could be monitored, as well as the issue each time, to identify if there is a wider issue that needs fixing.  I don’t know if anyone does that?
2. Issues with insite meters / costs that a few residents are experiencing
It has recently come to the TRA’s attention that some newbuild residents are facing incredibly high costs for their heating / hot water – and it seems likely that there is a problem with their system / meter which means that it is incorrectly registering how much they are actually using.  Even though Insite have agreed this sounds likely, they have said this is an issue for Hackney to resolve. They have then been passed around between Hackney teams and not found someone who can help them.  I believe some of them may now have contacted you, Annette? Are you able to help?
The figures that some people are reporting their heating / hot water costing really are very concerning, and do not sound like they can possibly be right. If there is any chance that that is the case, we as a TRA are very concerned if residents are not finding a way to raise this and have it investigated. This could have a significant financial impact on people, and the problem is affecting residents across all types of property –  social housing, shared ownership and private ownership. 
People with small, well-insulated modern flats are reporting having to pay out well over £100 per month through the insite meter.   This is much higher than would be expected, even with the increase in energy costs that were raised last year.   The letters that were sent out then said that an expected average monthly cost would be around £25 per month.  Insite themselves have said that the figures some residents are reporting to them do not sound at all right, but say they cannot do anything. 
Some residents have recently paid to have their HIU units serviced in case there was a problem there.  A few seemed to have been set very high which therefore uses more energy, but we don’t think that explains the issue for everyone, or to the full extent.    
A particularly shocking example was from this morning where a resident reported that they had topped up £100 at 8am this morning, and a short while later when the heating and hot water was not even working due to the issue discussed above their meter had used up £20 of energy.   The insite meter was registering that 65kw/h was being used, hence the meter eating up so much of the pre-paid money so quickly.  It seems very obvious from stories like this that some residents’ meters / systems are not operating properly, and are wrongly registering much higher use (and therefore cost) than is actually the case.  
The issue seems to be being made worse because the ADSL cable connecting the meters to the system has been broken since August (this also means the auto-top system does not work any more and payments have to be made manually).   Insite say this means they cannot check how much energy any individual resident has actually used – which means they cannot investigate even though they agree that the costs do not sound right.  They say the responsibility for fixing the ADSL cable is with Hackney.   They would charge a resident £220 plus VAT to come out and look at their meter. 
This is very worrying as it may mean that residents cannot prove, or Insite cannot check, that their energy usage does not match up with what they have been charged. 
The TRA are very concerned about this situation and would be really grateful if you could investigate (or explain how it should be investigated and who is responsible), and (if possible) prioritise helping those individual residents who have contacted you about this.  It is clearly causing a lot of stress for those affected.   Residents have no choice but to use the communal heating system, but currently have no way of ensuring that they are not being over-charged even when all the evidence suggests that that is the case.
3. General Information for residents about the heating costs
As you know from the last ETRA meeting, an action that has been outstanding for some time was collating some information for residents about the heating system and costs.  We are grateful that you indicated that you are both seeking this info and will put together a draft response.
We wanted to take this opportunity just to clarify a few things which residents would appreciate / expect to be included in that info:
– An explanation of whether the revised energy costs new build residents are being charged are competitive.   As you know those costs were tripled last year, leading many residents to query whether this was a fair and competitive price.  They were told that the costs were competitive but have had no explanation for this or no calculations to back up this claim.  We understand that the costs per unit can’t directly be compared with e.g. what British Gas or another provider would charge per kw/h, as we are essentially purchasing something different (heat rather than the raw gas) – but we were told that it was possible to explain / demonstrate how the costs compare.  However, that information hasn’t ever been provided, although the new build team promised it at an ETRA meeting probably a year ago now.
– An explanation of what residents can expect when the heating / hot water breaks (see point 1 above).
– An explanation of how maintenance costs are charged. As you know there is concern about whether this is somehow double-charged through service charges as well as through the unit costs.  So it would help to have very clear info about what the service charge covers (presumably routine maintenance plus e.g. the cost of calling out engineers when the system breaks like today?) and whether any maintenance costs for the system are charged in any other way.
Thanks in advance for your help with all this, and do get back to us if you need clarification on anything we have raised here.
Kind regards
Sarah Hulcoop
Vice-Chair Kings Crescent TRA

Reply from Annette Reid (Hackney)

Email recieved by TRA 29 January 2021

Dear Sarah
Apologies for the extended delay in responding to you and thank you for coordinating the main concerns on behalf of the residents of Kings Crescent. Although I am not leading on this subject matter I did agree to ensure that the residents would receive a comprehensive response to their enquiries. This is still the case however just to let you know that I have escalated the residents’ concerns to the Senior Management Team and await their response. 
Kind Regards
Annette Reid
Housing Officer 
Hackney Council
Hackney Service Centre
1 Hillman Street
E8 1DY
Tel 0208 356 3330
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