E.ON customers left without heating for weeks as temperatures plunge below zero

‘We’ve got parents with babies who can’t bathe them in the middle of a pandemic,’ says one resident

Ben Chapman
Saturday 13 February 2021 18:20 GMT
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One E.ON customer said the company had offered a refund of £125 to cover the inconvenience lasting several months, a figure they described as ’derisory’
One E.ON customer said the company had offered a refund of £125 to cover the inconvenience lasting several months, a figure they described as ’derisory’ (AFP/Getty)

Hundreds of E.ON customers have been left with no heating or hot water during freezing winter weather after what residents described as a “total systems failure”.

At one development of more than 900 flats in Croydon, south London, homeowners – including key workers, families with young babies and at least one person going through chemotherapy – have experienced intermittent outages for months before heating completely failed last week just as temperatures plunged below zero.

After six days of cold showers, no heating and no response from the company, E.ON offered some residents temporary accommodation only for them to find that the hotel also had heating problems. Residents in other blocks where E.ON has exclusive contracts to supply energy have also complained of supply problems.

One E.ON customer said the company had offered a refund of £125 to cover the inconvenience lasting several months, a figure they described as “derisory”.

E.ON’s latest problems have surfaced on top of an explosion of complaints after customers’ personal details were stolen in a cyberattack.

The breach last month forced E.ON to shut down its app for weeks, leaving thousands of customers on prepayment meters struggling to top up their gas and electricity. The company did not confirm how many people’s data was compromised.

Lee Jones, an E.ON customer at the Croydon development, said sustained outages had been getting progressively worse and more frequent since November.

“It was obvious the whole heating system was breaking down but they just put sticking plasters on it,” he said. “It’s a catastrophic failure. A failure of engineering and a total failure of customer service.”

He added: “We’ve got parents with babies who can’t bathe them in the middle of a pandemic. There are key workers going out to jobs who can’t get a proper shower and people working at home in the freezing cold. It’s much worse than it would be under any normal circumstances.

“It’s been very stressful and disruptive. The way the company has treated us has compounded it.”

Making matters worse, residents cannot switch supplier because they are trapped in a 25-year heating supply contract under a deal the E.ON struck with housebuilder Barratt Developments when the flats were constructed.

This type of deal, known as a district heating scheme, is common on large developments of flats. They are often billed as an environmentally friendly way to keep energy use and costs down, but critics say they allow construction firms to make further profits at the expense of leaseholders by trapping them into long contracts under which they have few rights.

“We can’t even see the contract, we have no idea what was signed up to,” said Mr Jones, who compared the situation to infamous private finance initiatives (PFI) that have burdened hospitals and schools with decades of expensive payments.

“We can’t be sure how long it [the contract] goes on for. We know so little about it and E.ON is saying we’re not allowed to see because it’s commercially sensitive. It’s outrageous.

“Nobody started to look into it too closely until things started to go wrong. Now we realise we have no idea why we’re tied in. We can’t make them do anything and the bills are really high.”

Residents now want an investigation into whether the deal between Barratt and E.ON provides good value for money and the low-carbon heating that was promised.

Under a normal energy supply contact, households can complain to the Energy Ombudsman about their provider, and have the option to switch. But people hooked up to a district heating system are stuck. They are not on the national energy grid and the arrangement is not regulated, meaning customers have nowhere to turn.

Home-building companies are already under intense scrutiny for ”rip-off” ground rents and rising service charges, all of which mean more costs handed down to leaseholders. The government announced a £2bn levy on the industry this week to replace dangerous cladding used on blocks of flats.

An E.ON spokesperson said of the Croydon development: “Our priority throughout this incident has been making sure our customers are as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, which is why we moved quickly to provide electric heaters and booked hotel accommodation for those who needed it.

“Temporary boilers were successfully installed earlier this week which returned heat to the network and since then we have continued operations to prevent any reoccurrence.

“We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience and have endeavoured to keep customers informed throughout the incident, explaining exactly how we have been working to resolve the situation and the support available to them.

“This was an unfortunate localised incident but in the main district heating provides a more efficient and lower carbon way of providing heating and hot water to homes and businesses.”

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