Tenants trapped by high fuel bills

Andrew Milligan/PA

Tenants in poorly insulated homes face rocketing fuel bills this winter as many landlords fail to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.

This is the warning from Citizens Advice and Friends of the Earth, who are calling on landlords to fulfill their responsibilities and help tenants control their fuel bills.

As a tenant in a drafty, single-glazed property with no insulation, I can relate to the stress of dealing with a landlord who refuses to do anything to improve the energy efficiency of the property. My partner and I are forced to pile on jumpers and layers of blankets, and use heaters that consume huge amounts of electricity.

Following countless letters and phone calls to the landlord to no avail, we are now looking to move – which is a feat in itself with a limited rental market in our local area.

And we are certainly not alone in our frustration – millions of tenants are trapped into paying higher fuel bills because they rely on landlords to make the property energy efficient, consumer groups have warned today.

As a result, tenants are wasting hundreds of pounds each year because their privately rented homes are haemorrhaging heat through the walls, windows and doors.

Force into action
Citizens Advice and Friends of the Earth are calling on private landlords to take responsibility for their properties by making these homes energy efficient immediately rather than until they are forced to through government legislation.

The government announced in May that from April 2018 it will be illegal to rent out a property or business that has less than an 'E' energy efficiency rating. The government has estimated that at least 682,000 properties would need improvements to meet this standard.

Cold Christmas
The consumer groups are also calling for this deadline to be moved forward by two years to 2016. The consumer groups estimate that the introduction of the minimal standard could save tenants in poorly insulated homes up to £500 a year off their energy bills.

Dave Timms, Energy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "Rising energy bills thanks to our addiction to fossil fuels and lack of decent insulation means millions of families will spend this winter shivering inside or spending a fortune to keep warm.

"The Government must move faster and get tough on landlords who do nothing by forcing them to improve properties which are so cold and expensive to heat they are a health hazard."

Tenant rights
So what rights do private tenants have when it comes to the energy efficiency of your home? To start with, landlords are legally required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which rates the property's energy performance from A to G. This will give you an idea of how expensive it will be to keep warm and how the energy efficiency can be improved. Of course, this isn't much help if the landlord doesn't act upon the information.

As a private tenant you may be entitled to free or heavily discounted insulation, depending on your circumstances. As you as the tenant pay the energy bills, you who would get the free insulation. Check with your energy supplier, or see if there are any government or local authority schemes that you may be eligible for on the Energy Saving Trust's website. To get insulation installed you will need written permission from your landlord but in many cases the supplier can apply for this on your behalf.

Don't stop rent
If there is a problem with a structure of the property, under the terms of your contract it is likely that the landlord is obliged to get it fixed - this includes heating and hot water systems, which must also be kept in working order. If the landlord does not fix the problem when asked, don't just stop paying your rent – you have not right to do this and the landlord could take legal action for rent arrears and you could lose your home.

There may be several ways of getting repairs or improvements done but Citizens Advice warns to always check your housing status before you complain as your landlord may try to evict you if you ask for repairs to be carried out. If in doubt, get advice from an experienced adviser at your local housing aid centre, law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Once you've checked your housing status, if you think that the condition of the property is affecting your health you can complain to the Environmental Health Department of your local council. They should investigate and they have the power to order your landlord to do the necessary repairs. Local councils also have a duty to take action against a landlord if they consider that housing conditions are not acceptable for people to live in.
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