“I’m going to have to borrow money”: the area where some residents cannot afford to heat their own homes

When Michelle Brunnock’s children ask her to turn on the heating because it’s freezing cold, she often has to tell them that she can’t afford it.

Michelle has lived on the Duffryn Estate in Newport for 15 years, but says the issues with the estate’s heating system have never been worse.

“When I first moved here, you paid a fixed price that was included in the rent and you could use it as much as you wanted,” she explained.

“Now I have to borrow money to heat my house.”

Single mother Michelle said complaints had been made about the fixed price, which residents did not want to pay during the summer, and several years ago the system was changed.

This is where, she explained, the issues that left many residents freezing and worried about whether they would be able to keep their families warm for the first time.

About 970 houses on the Duffryn Estate are managed by Newport City Homes and share a communal biomass heating and hot water system.

Sandpiper Way in the Duffryn Estate, Newport

And Michelle said many residents just can’t afford the “exorbitant” prices they are paying.

“Cost is the main thing. I put £ 70 a week, if not more, just on heating. Even so, I can’t have it comfortably all day,” she said.

“I put it on in the morning for an hour, then I turn it off. I put it back on in the afternoon for an hour or two, then the same in the evening.

“So it’s maybe six hours a day, if I can afford it.

“The winter months are bad every year, but in terms of money it has to be the worst.”

Michelle works part-time and has three children, and said she will have to borrow money to heat her house because she won’t be paid for two weeks.

“It’s gotten to the point where half of my salary goes just for heating. I don’t have any money, so I’m going to have to borrow it.

“It’s really worrying. I don’t want to keep borrowing money just to heat my own house. Then I have to pay that money back and I’m back to square one.”

Michelle said many residents of the system are charged around 9p per kilowatt (kw) for heating. She said many other systems charge around 3p.

“The moral of the story is we get ripped off and in 2021 while working I don’t expect to worry if I can heat my house and keep my kids warm and wonder if they can take a hot bath.

“They tell me they’re freezing, they’re walking around in their dressing gowns. I put it on for an hour, but then I just have to tell them I don’t have the money.

“I used electric heaters because it’s cheaper, put one in the hall and the landing just to warm it up a bit, but it’s not the safest, so it’s also a concern .

“We don’t even have the option to switch to another system either.”

Michelle added that she did not think the system was efficient or reliable enough.

“There is a boiler in the area that is breaking down and should be scrapped. Something more modern is needed.

Keith Bennett, 61, has lived on the Duffryn Estate for 35 years.

He suffers from a condition called cold urticaria, a cold skin reaction that appears as a rash within minutes of being exposed to the cold.

He said he could only soothe her by using hot water or antihistamine tablets.

“It’s like a nettle rash, it’s basically like an allergic reaction,” he said.

“The only way I can make it go away is to take something for the allergies, take a hot bath, or go to bed with a hot water bottle.”

Keith said he was struggling to heat his home, which he shared with his wife and daughter, and realized, via local social media groups, that others were also in the same boat .

“People said they were spending £ 50, £ 60 a week and not eating because of it. It’s shocking,” he said.

“If you were to use 220kw with the Duffryn heater at 9.515pence per kw it would be £ 20.94 per week.

“With British Gas, if you use the same amount of kW at 2.96 pence per kW, that would cost £ 6.51 plus the standard charge of £ 1.82 per week, so only £ 8.33 per week in total. “

Keith said he recently had someone check the heater, which runs on hot water rather than gas.

He said the radiator balance control was increased to a higher temperature, which made the house warmer, but quickly realized that it was unaffordable.

“It was nice and warm in the house, but when I checked the meter I realized it was using 40kW per hour, at almost 10p per kW. You determine what that is.

“I look at the meter all the time. My wife asks me what I’m doing and I tell her I’m looking at the meter, wondering if I can afford the heat.

“My family says ‘Dad, if you need money for heat, we’ll give it to you.’ But that’s not about that. Arm and a leg.

“It’s not just about me, it’s about the whole community, and a lot of people are suffering from it. It shouldn’t happen. I just want the right balance.”

Keith Bennett, 61, lives in the Duffryn Estate

Residents have since raised the issue with their local representatives and Newport City Homes.

Cllr Trevor Watkins, who represents the Tredegar Park neighborhood, said he was aware of the issues some residents are having.

“It was brought to my attention over the Christmas and New Years period that residents were having issues with this,” he said.

“I have obtained and provided residents with contact information for relevant staff at Newport City Homes so that they can troubleshoot system performance issues only.

“I am awaiting their feedback to see how many residents have made contact.”

Cllr Watkins added that the main concerns raised were with the performance rather than the cost of the system.

He added that as a resident himself he had not had any issues with the system.

A spokesperson for Newport City Homes said Duffryn’s system was “constantly monitored” for effectiveness.

“This monitoring, which is independently verified, shows that the average annual heating cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Duffryn is £ 378.47,” they said.

“The average annual heating cost for a three bedroom house in the area is £ 521.65, which is £ 78.35 less than the South Wales average for a property of this type.”

The spokesperson said the costs included 24/7 maintenance and repair service, “making it difficult to assign a comparable cost per kW for heat and water. warmth that the residents of Duffryn receive.

“Since there are no fixed costs, residents only pay for the heating and hot water they consume.

Newport City Homes has confirmed that residents do not have the option to switch providers, unless they are private owners.

“The Duffryn Estate was designed for a district heating system with properties built into terraces to allow piping to heat each property.

“This ensures that the system is not only sustainable, but also effective, efficient and good value for money – as evidenced by the average heating bills in the region below the average for South Wales.”

The spokesperson added that new heaters were installed in 2018 which are “designed to work differently from traditional heaters, meaning they often aren’t hot from top to bottom when the system is on.

“We understand this is unusual, but we want to reassure residents that they are working efficiently.

“90% of the calls we receive regarding the Duffryn heating system relate to heating controls and misunderstandings about the operation of the system.

“If someone is having trouble programming their heating system, adjusting the valves on their radiators, wanting to know more about how the district heating system works, or worried about heating costs, they can call us on 01633 381111. “

Newport City Homes said residents also had the ability to see how much money they were spending on heating and hot water over a period of time on their individual meters.

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