FEATURE: Erdington renters facing millions in extra energy costs as the government scraps efficiency plans

Words by Ed King and Josh Neicho

People renting private accommodation in Erdington could have paid out over £1.1million in extra energy costs this winter, after the Government scrapped plans to force landlords to up their energy efficiency standards – according to research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

The legislative U-turn was announced in a press release issued by Downing Street before Christmas, outlining several points where the Prime Minister has “revised plans” previously set for the UK to challenge climate change and to reach net zero by 2050.

According to the United Nations, whose member states made collective promises on environmental issues in the 2015 Paris Agreement, net zero means “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible” – and to a level where any remaining emissions can be naturally “re-absorbed from the atmosphere”.

Amongst these commitments, the UK pledged to introduce new legislation that would force all privately rented tenancies to carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C or above by 2028 – bringing their properties in line with the most energy efficient systems and reducing bills for renters.

However, under new plans announced by the Prime Minister in late 2023, the Government has now stated it will: “Scrap policies to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties” but would “instead continue to encourage households to do so where they can.”

In new analysis, published by the ECIU, it was found that 73% of private rented homes in Erdington currently carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or lower – meaning the new laws would have forced an upgrade in thousands of homes across the constituency and made their energy consumption cost less.

With improved energy systems, and based on figures from energy ombudsman Ofgem and net zero consultants Cornwall Insight, the ECIU estimate Erdington renters could save up to £26million in energy costs by 2050 if all homes carried an EPC rating between A-C.

The ECIU further calculated private renters across the constituency missed out on £1.1million in potential savings over the 2023/24 winter months alone.

Other policy shifts made in the Government’s statement include pulling back on their proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and extending the deadline for homeowners to install more energy efficient boilers.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calls the new plans a “fairer” approach to the UK’s commitment to becoming net zero by 2050, insisting the UK will still meet its targets for 2030 and 2035 and the revised agenda is “a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic path”.

Organisations representing private landlords have also welcomed the changes, with Ben Thompson, Deputy CEO at Mortgage Advice Bureau, highlighting the “pressing timelines” many were under to retrofit new energy systems. 

Environmental and social activists, however, have challenged the Government’s revised plans – arguing they renege on the UK’s previous promises to effectively challenge climate change, and leave individual households paying hundreds more in their annual energy bills.

Paul Barnes, regional organiser for community union ACORN West Midlands, believes private households will bear the brunt of the Government’s shift in policy.

He said: “Tenants in the UK are facing an impossible challenge of rising costs and stagnant wages. The government’s decision to row back on its commitments for landlords to increase the energy efficiency of homes will push renters and our members further into poverty.

“With growing issues of rent increase linked with increasing energy costs, many of our members are already having to make impossible choices. We demand that the UK Government brings back its commitments to increased energy efficiency.”

Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, added: “Private renters include some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as those with a long-term illness or disability and low-income families. There’s no two ways about it, they will be made colder and poorer by scrapping these standards.

“The Prime Minister has essentially picked the landlord over the renter with his U-turn, in a move that makes no sense to fuel poverty charities or to energy companies alike.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or want more information about your rights and responsibilities over domestic energy use, contact Ofgem via www.ofgem.gov.uk

for more from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit visit www.eciu.net

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

I hope everyone has enjoyed a lovely Christmas break and spent some valuable time with your family. As I look back at 2022, I know it has been a challenging year for many people in our community and across the country.

At the beginning of the year, we sadly lost Jack Dromey MP. He was loved by many across the constituency that he proudly served for 12 years. In the months that followed, I was absolutely honoured to be elected as the Member of Parliament representing Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. I know that I have some very big shoes to fill.

Since I was elected, I have been working non-stop and have helped more than a thousand local people with casework issues ranging from housing and antisocial behaviour to immigration and benefits. I have regularly spoken up for local people in Parliament and held the Government to account by raising the issues that are important to you like fly-tipping, poor housing, and the cost-of-living crisis.

We campaigned to stop another betting shop opening on Erdington High Street – and won. Sadly, the betting shop has now submitted an appeal to the government to try and overturn the council’s decision and wishes of local people. I will be fighting this appeal all the way.

Our High Street needs investment and I’ve worked with local groups to submit a funding application that will transform to the area and make it a destination again – if it’s approved by Ministers.

I’ve been working in every corner of our community – whether it’s helping with litter picks in Stockland Green, arguing for tougher laws to tackle rogue landlords in Gravelly Hill, supporting our incredible local businesses on Erdington High Street, making the case for more police resources to get crime down in Kingstanding, helping local people in Castle Vale with rising housing costs or fighting for better services in Perry Common and Pype Hayes.

I regularly visit foodbanks in our community that do incredible work to support struggling local families. I’ve listened to heart-breaking stories from working people who are struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Local people told me that their wages just weren’t paying enough to keep up with rising bills.

I was an NHS nurse for over 25 years, and it absolutely breaks my heart to see nurses strike for the first time in 106 years.

Nurses work extremely long hours, often for very low wages. They deserve the dignity of fair pay and acceptable working conditions. The power to stop these strikes, that even nurses themselves don’t really want, lies squarely with the Government. But Ministers are still refusing to even talk to them.

Our country is crying out for strong leadership to get our economy moving and help struggling families deal with the cost-of-living crisis. But sadly, we have seen chaos with 3 different Prime Ministers, inflation hitting a 40-year high and the Government crashing our economy, leaving millions of families struggling to pay their bills.

2023 will bring more challenges for our community but know this, I will be there – with you – every step of the way, so please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns. 

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

As we’ve moved into winter, devastating housing inequalities across the UK have been exposed. In November, we learned of the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rotherham, a two-year-old who died as a result of prolonged exposure to mould in his home. Sadly, all too often I hear about families living in similar conditions in our own community.

Just recently I was contacted by a family in Erdington who have been living in temporary accommodation for years.

The mould in their property was so bad that mushrooms were found growing in their bathroom.

I heard from another local family of five sharing a one-bedroom property, where all four children have been prescribed inhalers due to the terrible mould in their home.

After a decade of Conservative mismanagement, £38 million is already being spent every year on treating homes with mould but this simply isn’t enough.

With energy bills going up and a cold winter ahead, we can expect a spike in damp and mould problems. As much as the Tories would like to pretend, this issue isn’t going away.

I spoke in Parliament about how this tragedy – and the shocking cases in our constituency – shine a light on our broken housing market. I urged the Government to bring forward legally enforceable minimum standards for private accommodation and to give local councils stronger powers to tackle rogue landlords.

2022 has been such a hard year for many people in Erdington and across the UK. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting our most deprived neighbourhoods the hardest and energy prices are soaring. Chaos in Downing Street has left working people paying for Tory negligence.

But on a more positive note, it was an absolute joy to attend the Erdington Christmas light switch-on this year, which was a brilliant community event on the High Street and my first time attending as the local MP. It really put me in the festive spirit!

This is my last column of the year, and I want to wish everyone in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale a very happy Christmas! 

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

After just 45 days, Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister, with her chaotic and disastrous leadership crashing our economy and leaving the reputation of our country in tatters. Her kamikaze ‘mini’ budget spooked the markets and forced lenders to withdraw hundreds of mortgage deals overnight, leading to working people in our community facing an average mortgage increase of £413 a month.

The Tories have also U-turned on the energy price cap, potentially leaving households with average annual energy bills of more than £4,000 from April next year.

The mess that the Tories find themselves in is of their own making. At this critical time when the country needs stability, the chaos they have created has put millions of working people in financial uncertainty.

After ousting Liz Truss and making her the shortest serving Prime Minister in UK history, Tory MPs have recently appointed Rishi Sunak as our new PM without him saying a single word to the public about how he would fix the problems we’re facing. Instead, he has boasted of taking money from deprived communities like ours and handing it to the richest areas.

The impact of Tory infighting has had a devastating effect on our economy and areas like ours have been the hardest hit. I’ve been speaking to local people at foodbanks in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale to hear about how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting them.

At Bethany Community Foodbank, I met people who are sadly having to choose between heating and eating every day. The foodbank started with helping 90 users every month 6 years ago, but now helps a staggering 1,200 users each month. I heard heart-breaking stories from families, with young children who are struggling with the rising cost of bills as their income remained the same.

The amazing volunteers at Castle Vale Foodbank told me that they are seeing nurses and police officers accessing their discreet service because they can’t make ends meet.

And at Erdington Foodbank, several local people spoke to me about unfair sanctions being applied to their Universal Credit claims, coupled with low wages that were forcing them to turn to the foodbank.

People in our community are crying out for help as they struggle with rising costs. We need economic stability and a government that puts the interests of our country first. To end this chaos, we need a general election to let the people decide.

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

NEWS: Castle Vale opens ‘warm welcome spaces’ to support people across winter

Words by Ed King / Pics by Bianca Parvuceanu

As the cost-of-living crisis makes the coming cold months even harder for people, Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library have become part of the city’s official ‘warm welcome spaces’ – providing free to access heated facilities across winter.

Open between 9am to 9pm on weekdays, and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays, the indoor ‘warm banks’ not only offer a heated place for families to come to, but also work stations, computer access, hot drinks, baby changing areas, and ‘children’s play equipment’.

One of 26 current official outlets across Birmingham, the citywide initiative has commandeered libraries, community hubs, and sports centres, to provide a warm support network over winter – spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Equalities.

As energy prices reach record highs, and people across the country are forced to decide between basic essentials – often represented by the choice between ‘food or heat’ – the Council led support programme has committed to providing ‘places you can use and visit during the winter period and beyond.’

Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library are run by Spitfire Advice and Support Service (SASS), whose Chief Officer, Ray Goodwin, is also the elected Labour Party Councillor for Castle Vale.

SASS have always had publicly accessible ‘warm spaces’ at both Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library, alongside their other community support programmes – such as food distribution and financial advice services.

Now part of the citywide initiative, Cllr Goodwin hopes to reach more people across the Vale and offer a more robust support service – whist ensuring the growing post-Covid problems and those caused by the cost of living crisis are not ‘normalised’.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “The ‘welcome warm spaces’ initiative is probably one of the most important initiatives in this city.

“It’s not only going to provide a space for people to stay warm, and make sure they can meet their friends and socially interact – and combat social isolation, but quite frankly it’s going to stop people dying.

“For us this is a really important step to help during the cost of living crisis, which will protect both people and communities.”

Spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton (Glebe Farm and Tile Cross, Labour), Birmingham’s ‘warm welcome spaces’ initiative is a Council led answer to the nationwide dangers many will face during the cold months.

In a recent article in the Guardian, announcing the introduction of the scheme and published the day after Liz Truss took over as Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton was quick to put the onus of responsibility squarely on the steps of No10.

In the final paragraph, Cllr Cotton warns the erstwhile PM: “unless you tackle this crisis with the same urgency and focus that we approached the pandemic, you will see people dying in their own homes this winter. The choice, Prime Minister, is yours. For all our sakes, make the right one.”

Now Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton has an equally unflinching message for the country’s new Conservative Leader and top politician.

He told Erdington Local: “Mr Sunak and his party have been in power for 12 years.  The fact that we are now having to build a network of ‘warm welcome spaces’ to keep Brummies warm and safe this winter is a damning indictment of their decade of economic failure and mismanagement.

“People in our city need help now with meeting the rocketing costs of heating their homes, putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head.  What they don’t need are more cuts to public services, or a refusal to ensure their pensions and benefits keep up with spiralling inflation.

“Birmingham’s Labour Council will do everything in its power to keep people warm and safe this winter.  But the Government needs to act – and act fast – to avoid their cost of living crisis turning into a disaster for many people in our city.”

At the time of writing, Birmingham has 26 ‘warm welcome spaces’ recognised by the Council, growing from an initial eight when launched – with more businesses and organisations being invited to join the scheme.

St Mark’s Community Hub, Brandywood Crescent, Kingstanding, is also part of the Council’s official ‘warm welcome spaces’ – although it is only open to over 50’s on Thursdays between 1:30pm to 4pm.

St Martin’s Social Care Project at St Martin’s Church are also part of the initiative, but again only open to over 50’s on Tuesdays between 10am to 1pm.

The new community hub from Foundations 4 the Future, opening in Central Square later this month, has also pledged to offer a warm open space for local families, alongside the outreach work they do to support young people and challenge youth violence.

For more on the ‘warm welcome space’ at Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory_record/418843/spitfire_advice_and_support_service

For more on Spitfire Advice and Support Services visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

NEWS: Castle Vale residents “devastated” and face “being homeless” after 60% rise in service charge

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by residents

Castle Vale residents in the Redrow development are facing a rise of around 60% in their yearly service charge, adding potentially hundreds of pounds onto their monthly bill.

Managed by HLM Property Management, the drastic increase has been attributed to utilities costs, but some residents are now facing monthly fees even bigger than their mortgages – to be paid directly to HLM.

In a letter issued to residents around Yatesbury Avenue and Merlin Way/Walk, HLM told: ‘We understand this is going to be a difficult time for leaseholders, however in order to ensure that services at the property continue we would ask that prompt payment is made.’

The letter also included a note explaining the national property management company had budgeted ‘a contribution from the reserves to reduce the impact of the utilities cost increase’ totalling £75000.’

Over 100 residents received the letter, issued at the end of last month, leaving many feeling “devastated” and worried about “being homeless” if they can’t make ends meet.

Paul White, Merlin Walk, told Erdington Local: “I have just bought my first property and within a month it (service charge) has gone from £300 to £460 a month, way above mortgage and inflation level with wages not being increased.

“I am worried that even though I own my property I could be faced with being homeless.”

Another resident, Amber Batt, said: “I’m a 23-year-old, first time buyer. Initially I was advised the service charge would be around £300 and of recent I have been told it is going to be upwards of £450.

“I am not able to go out and live the normal life of a 23 year old as I have the impending responsibility of paying over £400 a month to be able have a functioning house in addition to my mortgage and council tax.

“It feels there is no choice in the matter and no consideration is being given to people’s individual circumstances.”

Christine Pascoe said: “I moved in to my flat in February of this year and got my first service charge bill, whilst buying the property.

“I was told the service charge would be £250 approximately per month, but it’s come out at £412 per month. I live alone and a pensioner.”

Sarah Garfield, who has lived on Castle Vale since the houses were built in 2006, added: “My service charge has risen by £160 a month which I find absolutely criminal. I live alone so therefore only have my wage to live on and this rise will have a massive impact on my day-to-day living.

“It’s time HLM were confronted and provide us with a decent management service instead of the abysmal one we’ve had to put up with for the past 16 years.”

One resident, Matthew Bowler, saw his monthly service charge jump from £195 to £318.5 due to increased energy costs, despite living alone in a studio apartment.

He explained: “I’m paying more for my energy than many families in three bedroom houses. It’s just shocking.

“These flats are well insulated; I don’t have the heating on that much – even in winter. There’s no way that the energy I’m using correlates with the price I’m paying for it.”

After individually trying to challenge the home wrecking increase with HLM, a group of residents have now banded together to fight the hiked-up service charge – which is scheduled to begin being paid to the company on 1 July.

At the time of writing, over 40 people had joined a special WhatsApp group to challenge the utility costs and get a “fair deal” from the property management company.

Matthew Bowler continued: “(We want) a fair deal in proportion to inflation because this is way above inflation.

“It’s reached a tension point now where things have got to be addressed and we’ve got to sit down with them (HLM) and say ‘look we’re really unhappy and this price that you’re trying to put on us is going to be devastating. You need to work with us to get a solution.’

“If they don’t act, people could lose livelihoods; there’s families that live here, there’s pensioners, and we won’t be able to cope. There’s going to be people made homeless by it – they’re not going to be able to pay the mortgage and the service charge.

“If HLM aren’t prepared to do anything then we’ve got to bring into question their reputation as a company – it’s completely not acceptable.”

After being contacted by residents looking for help, newly elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin (Lab) began organising a public meeting to hear concerns directly and seeking legal advice from colleagues at Birmingham City Council.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “Having been approached by residents living in the Redrow development on Merlin Way/Walk and the surrounding roads, I’m deeply concerned by the disproportionate increase in relation to utility costs. In some incidents this appears as high as a 300% increase.

“I will be supporting the concerned residents – who are angry, worried, and very stressed by this – to find a way forward which ensures they pay fair utilities costs.

“It simply unacceptable to estimate such figures, especially during the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

HLM Property Management were approached for comment which they replied would be issued “in due course.”

If you have been affected by a rise in service charges, imposed utility bills, or landlord/lettings agent fees, we want to hear from you – email in confidence: edking@erdingtonlocal.com