DOZENS of tenants in one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas were hit with £274 reconnection charges after being disconnected from a communal heating system in the middle of winter for running up debts.

Cube Housing Association launched a £27million project in 2012, with SSE, which was designed to improve the energy efficiency of around 2000 homes in the Wyndford area of Maryhill.

It involves a central boiler supplying all homes with heating and hot water and has won awards for helping tenants save up to 40 per cent on energy bills.

However, housed in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas, some tenants have accrued “longstanding” debts. 

According to North West Citizens Advice Bureau (GNWCAB) around 92 properties had their supplies cut off last year, although it is not clear how many were tenanted.

Read more: Number of Scottish households in fuel poverty down by 100,000 

SSE was demanding a £274 reconnection fee and a portion of the debt before power was restored – in some cases up to £1000 up front.

The energy supplier was forced to back down over the charges after the CAB got involved, helped by local MSP Bob Doris and work is ongoing to reconnect others.

Citizens Advice Scotland said it was concerned by the high level of disconnections and is calling for tougher regulations for district heating networks where tenants are tied into suppliers.
SSE said it was working with Cube Housing to ensure tenants are checked for vulnerability before being disconnected and said it is introducing new pre-payment meters to “eliminate the need to disconnect supplies in the future”.

The energy provider said it made a £10,000 winter vulnerability fund available in December to help ease the financial burden tenants were facing.

Amber Cully, Interim Chief Executive of GNWCAB,  said: “We made clear first of all that this amount was not nearly enough to meet the need, and also that we did not believe it would be appropriate for the CAB to take on the role of choosing which residents deserved to be allocated money and which did not.

“Instead our suggestion was that SSE make sure that ALL residents remain connected throughout the winter until a solution could be found. This was rejected by SSE. 
“We are currently engaged in negotiating re-connection terms for residents who have been disconnected.”

Read more: Heating system which is cutting bills for tenants is the future, say campaigners 

Mardelle Ceaser, a tenant, who helped families affected by disconnections, said: “I originally got involved in this as I knew a neighbour that had her heating/hot water turned off. 
“I also heard about others, some with young children. The heating expense issue is insurmountable for many.”

Bob Doris, SNP MSP for the area, said: “What was also becoming apparent was the failure of SSE to screen for vulnerabilities adequately before acting to disconnect. 

“The reconnection fee is a punitive approach.

“It would appear to be a very short-sighted deal that they (Cube) have entered into with SSE and I think they have to take a degree of responsibility that SSE screen for vulnerability.

“Such practices by energy companies will not be confined to SSE or my constituency and I am also contacting Ofgem to see how they can promote standards and best practice in the energy sector.”

A spokesman for SSE said:“We have been working in collaboration with Cube Housing to make sure that any customer disconnected at Wyndford is checked in advance for vulnerabilities. 

Read more: Heating system which is cutting bills for hundreds of tenants is the future, say campaigners

“We have also been working with Bob Doris MSP as well as organisations like CAB and CAS on this issue and SSE has set up a one-off £10,000 winter vulnerability fund to help enable residents at Wyndford get reconnected sooner. 

“Disconnection is always an absolute last resort for us and the fee is what we get charged for the disconnection and reconnection to be done by a contractor. 

“But here we have been trying to recover payments owed from customers for years at significant levels of debt. 

“We offer a range of assistance to support those who may struggle to meet their basic energy needs and we are in the process of introducing new pre-payment meters to Wyndford which will hopefully eliminate the need to disconnect supplies in the future.”

A spokeswoman for Cube Housing said: “We’re doing everything we can to help tenants on the Wyndford estate who have been disconnected or are threatened with disconnection for not paying their bills.”