HHP say heating systems are not up to standards

Tenant Hazel McManus says she's paying over the odds for her energy bills. (Pic: Peter Urpeth)Tenant Hazel McManus says she's paying over the odds for her energy bills. (Pic: Peter Urpeth)
Tenant Hazel McManus says she's paying over the odds for her energy bills. (Pic: Peter Urpeth)
The overseeing board of the local housing association, Hebridean Housing Partnership, is being recommended to remove a key heating system that affects a large number of their properties.

The infra-red heating systems is currently installed in 206 of its properties and the move, ahead of its board meeting on Wednesday, comes after a large number of tenants had raised serious concerns over the high cost of running the systems and about their inefficiency in heating their homes.

HHP conducted a year-long monitoring exercise of the systems, and has now concluded that they need to be replaced.

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In January, concerns over the systems led two of HHP’s tenants in Stornoway to launch an online petition calling for their removal which has received 229 signatures to date and with a string of comments from other tenants detailing their issues with the system.

Petition organisers, Stornoway-based HHP tenants Hazel McManus and Suzanne Macaulay, highlighted their experiences of using the heaters in an interview with Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Hazel McManus said that while she acknowledged that many were struggling to pay for their energy bills, the high cost of running the infra-red system, and the inefficiency of it, meant she was putting large amounts of her income onto her pre-payment meter for heating, only to be left sitting in her house “shivering”.

In the first 28 days of January, Hazel, who works shifts as a house-keeper in a local hotel and relies on Universal Credit to top up her income, confirmed that she had spent £336 on heating the home for herself and her family of three children, and during the recent cold snap the infra-red system had only managed to heat their home to 14c.

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Responding to the recommendation going to HHP’s board to remove the infra-red heating system, Hazel McManus said: “I feel it is a long overdue decision, and the only morally-correct decision to make. I also won’t believe that decision until it is in writing with a reasonable timescale in place.”

With the monitoring exercise now complete, the report on the heating system set to go before HHP’s board meeting says that as a registered social landlord it is required to meet standards for the energy efficiency of social housing and is required to show that the heating system it uses is efficient and has the support of its tenants.

The report states that the results of the monitoring survey of the heating system carried out over the last twelve months show that while HHP can demonstrate the efficiency of the system “in some cases”, “we no longer have the support of the tenants for this type of heating” and therefore all properties with the system will fail to meet the energy efficiency standards required.

The report states: “The results show a significant number of tenants have reported the systems are not easy to use, they are unable to reach a level of comfort and are proving very expensive. 75 per-cent of those who have infra-red systems are unhappy with them.”

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In a separate statement, in response to questions as to whether it accepted that its infra-red systems do not provide the consistent room-heating expected at installation, HHP said it accepts that it has been shown to be true in some of the larger homes but it is not true, the housing association states, of every home with the system and that some tenants had reported being happy with the systems.

In terms of concerns that the infra-red systems could not reach comfortable heating levels in cold snaps, HHP stated: “This is not peculiar to infra-red heating systems. A number of heating systems experienced the same problem in the recent cold spell. In some older homes with gas central heating the property had not reached 16c despite being on for 5 hours.”

The report adds: “There is no doubt that huge rises in energy costs over the last 12 to 18 months have been a contributory factor to the increased dis-satisfaction levels and whilst we will continue to support our tenants to find ways to reduce energy bills we also need to accept the result of the survey.”

The conclusion in the report is a recommendation to the board to bring the replacement of the systems forward by seven years to 2023/24 and 2024/25.

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But the decision will also create a financial headache for the housing provider who now plans to make the previously unscheduled changes with a preferred option of replacement of the system with air-source heating systems.

It projects that the cost of replacing the system in all 206 homes is £3m, and the report warns that while the proposed replacement of the systems could begin in 2023/24 and conclude the year after, financial constraints due to costs and availability of grant funding may mean that the replacement process would have to have an extended timeline.

In a statement, HHP said: “Replacement of any major component is costly and the board must ensure they have sufficient supporting evidence available prior to making any decision of this magnitude.

“Gathering this evidence has taken time and we can understand tenant’s feeling it was too long, but it was necessary.

“At this stage we cannot pre-empt the decision the Board will take but we will notify tenants as soon as practicable after the board meeting of the outcome.”

Pic - Petition organiser Hazel McManus