Cost of Living: Residents at London block of flats hit with hefty £53k gas bill after signing up to ‘cheaper energy’ means they’re not covered by price cap

A resident of a South West London block of flats has been left stunned after householders were hit with a collective gas bill of £53,000, on top of electricity bills already topping £2,200.

Ping Shum, 46, a lecturer at Roehampton University, lives in Poplar Court, Twickenham with his wife and their cat, and says they watch how much energy they use carefully. His energy bills, including a heat network charge, from April 2021 when he moved in were £2,818.20 a year. From April 2022 with the energy crisis setting in, this increased to around £3,164 per year.

Now though, he, along with his neighbours in the block, are being asked to foot an extra £53,000 bill from their heat network to cover gas costs, bringing Ping’s total energy bill from April 2022 to this April to over £5,300 for a three-bed flat, £3187.80 of this solely from the heat network.

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A heat network is an alternative way of heating homes, off the national grid, that involves a number of buildings, an entire local area, or even a whole city having its heating and hot water supplied from one central, communal source via a network of underground pipes.

This eliminates the need for each home to have a boiler, allowing hot water and heating to be pumped straight in from the central source and stored there when not needed. In theory heat networks should be cheaper for consumers too, with the government’s own information asserting that it will “only support heat networks which can provide heat at prices no higher than the alternatives”.

It claims heat networks can “help in the battle against fuel poverty” with savings of up to 30 per cent for residents. This couldn’t be further from the case for the residents of Poplar Court though, who feel abandoned by the Government.

Ping continues: “Because our building is on the heat network we had to sign a contract to pay commercial price so we’re not protected by the Ofgem £2,500 price cap. We’re paying commercial prices for a residential building.

“The government recognised this and promised twice they would provide equivalent support but we haven’t received anything and now they’re moving on, and the help that’s there (the Energy Bill Relief Scheme) will be phased out by the end of March before we even receive it.”

Ping says the huge bill is now taking a toll on him mentally. He added: “£5,300… It’s two months salary for someone like me, a university lecturer, and you know how little we earn, it’s insane.

“Mentally, back in April I calculated how much the bills were going to come to and I just said ‘holy sh**’. Every month by the end of the month I’d be refreshing my banking app and it’s all gone. It’s affecting how we shop, I have to avoid even Tesco now because it’s too expensive, we can only shop at Lidl. We don’t have as much meat anymore.

“But we are lucky because there are many people in a worse situation than us. We’re quite ordinary middle class, I’ve never had to worry about bills and my bank account like this before.”

Ping says those at the top of Government need to do more to help the families stuck in the same position as him. He continued: “It feels like [PM Rishi] Sunak doesn’t care, it’s really disappointing. I pay tax like anyone else, but we’re unequal, we’re being overlooked and the promises aren’t being kept. Because there are less than half a million households in this situation, even when we’re united together it’s not enough pressure.”

Ping says if his bills continue to increase, with a new annual contract for the block looming, his only option will be to start borrowing money to pay them.

Lib Dem MP for Twickenham Munira Wilson has been working to get government energy bill support to cover those in Ping’s situation. She said: “Across London, families in blocks of flats on heat networks have been abandoned by the Government. First, they were excluded from the Ofgem energy cap, then from the £3,000 Energy Price Guarantee. Now they’re left guessing whether support will dry up completely from April.

“The Government has invested millions in building these networks. Leaving their residents to face financial ruin in a cost of living emergency is a poor way to look after that investment. Ministers must make good on their promise of equivalent support and ensure Londoners on heat networks are protected from spiralling bills.”

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