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Watchdog opens investigation over ‘shocking’ energy bills at Orchard Village, Rainham

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 September 2016

Rainham resident Colin Nickless is angered by the rise in energy bills

Rainham resident Colin Nickless is angered by the rise in energy bills

Archant

An investigation has been launched into energy costs at an affordable housing estate after residents received “extortionate” bills.

‘Costs were made clear’

SSE

A spokesman from energy provider SSE confirmed the company was aware of the situation and had made contact with housing association Circle.

“SSE has always made it clear how much the service costs and the annual fixed costs of £452.50 were included in the contract the customers all signed,” he said.

“The confusion seems to have come about as a result of the energy performance certificate. It may not mention the fixed costs and only estimates how much the additional variable cost of the energy consumed would be over the year.

“However, as SSE wasn’t the author of the document we are still investigating this point.

“The standing charge covers 24-hour emergency call outs, repairs and maintenance for no extra charge.”

Stroma Tech

A spokesman from Stroma Tech, which publishes energy performance certificates, said it completed the assessment at Orchard Village on behalf of Willmott Partnership Homes to show the project complied with building regulations.

“The specification provided was confirmed by our client as being correct prior to completion of the EPCs, and in accordance with certification guidelines,” he said.

He added the assessment should be used as “a guideline” and does not incorporate additional management costs for communal systems or standing charges.

“Stroma Tech produced individual EPCs for each dwelling. These may or may not reflect the true operation of the system.”

The energy ombudsman is investigating energy prices and standing charges at the Orchard Village estate, Rainham, after a home owner complained of paying up to three times more than expected.

Colin Nickless, of Broadis Way, opened the case with the independent watchdog last week after paying more than £1,000 for hot water and heating in one year, despite his energy performance certificate stating bills should amount to £334 a year.

The row is the latest in a series of issues reported by residents, run by Circle Housing, including problems with damp and leaks in some homes built three years ago.

The certificate, given to Mr Nickless when he moved in, was published by Stroma, energy assessors for contractors Willmott Dixon who built the estate.

Energy is provided through a communal off-site boiler, supplied by energy company SSE, and home owners are not allowed to switch providers.

“It’s scandalous really,” said Mr Nickless, who said he has to pay an initial £452.50 a year as a standing charge on his property before using any units of heat.

Circle’s head of housing Karen Ayling said the association was looking into the matter urgently and would keep residents updated.

“We are committed to working with residents to help keep their energy costs down,” she said. “Only home owners on the estate have to pay the full standing charge, while Circle subsidises the fee for social tenants.”

The Ombudsman Services confirmed receiving the complaint, which was lodged on behalf of 87 other households but will be investigated on its own.

Other home owners on the estate have since logged their own cases with the ombudsman.

Another resident of Broadis Way received a bill – seen by the Recorder – of £884.53 for a five-month period.

“I was honestly just shocked,” said the resident. “It’s extortionate. It’s supposed to be affordable housing but it’s not affordable.”

Rainham MP Jon Cruddas pledged to raise the issue with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“The concerns surrounding utility bills are part of ongoing discussions into the wider issues at the Orchard Village development,” he said.

“I find it unacceptable that residents are unable to choose their own energy provider, as this takes away the ability to find a deal that works for them.”

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