Westminster council says ‘blame Gaddafi for soaring heating bills’

Pensioners disgusted as council says hike is down to Middle Eastern unrest

Council bosses are blaming Middle East unrest for a massive hike in the heating and hot water bills of Westminster tenants and leaseholders.

Around 5,000 households with communal heating systems will be hit as leaseholders’ bills rise up to �500 per year and tenants see an increase of up to �250. The council is also warning of further rises expected this October and next April.

Westminster bosses say they can no longer subsidise energy bills as costs rise due to “ongoing political instability in the Middle East” and “spikes in global demand”.

The move comes just days after average Westminster council housing rent was increased by more than six per cent – a rise of up to �337 per year.

Stan Brown, 88, lives on the Wharncliffe Gardens Estate in St John’s Wood and his bills are set to climb from �14.85 per week to �18.72 – a 26 per cent increase of almost �200 annually.

“It’s too expensive,” he said. “I’m a pensioner and, luckily, I’m not at the bare bones with money. But there must be a lot of other pensioners who have very few savings and they will really struggle to pay. They haven’t had comparable rises in pensions.

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“This will affect everybody and attack the most vulnerable when they have only just been given a six per cent increase in rent. It will be worst for people who live on their own.

“It’s not good enough to say you have to start budgeting for next year.

“I use my heating about four months a year, I don’t have baths and my power shower is powered by electricity so that doesn’t come off the bill. So now I have asked to be taken off the communal bills because I can do it much cheaper myself. I’m waiting to hear what they say.”

Lisson Green Estate tenant Achim von Malotki will also experience a 26 per cent rise of more than �150 per year. He said: “Some of the people on the estate have individual boilers which are meant to be less efficient than those who have the communal boilers but it’s not the case.

“I’m going to pay about 40 per cent more than one of my neighbours in another block would with an individual boiler.

“This is something that, even if you are on a low salary or on benefits, you still have to pay the increase.

“It will hit the very poor hardest.”

Fellow Lisson Green Estate resident Dolly Cuthbert said: “It’s disgusting. For some people, the effects of the higher costs could be quite serious.”

Westminster Council and CityWest Homes, which runs the council’s housing stock, say they will help residents mitigate the rise by urging them to budget for future increases, negotiating for better deals and offering guidance and support.

Housing boss Cllr Philippa Roe said: “We have sought to shield residents from fluctuations in energy prices but believe that we are unlikely to see reductions in the cost of energy over the next five years.

“So we will have to start moving to a more expensive pricing regime to reflect higher costs. We will, of course, negotiate as hard as we can to get prices down and work with tenants and leaseholders to reduce their heating costs.”