A heating system meant to reduce bills is leaving people in fuel poverty, according to campaigners and residents.
The government wants millions of us to get heat and hot water from “district heating networks” to help meet carbon reduction targets.
But residents on some networks say they are more expensive than traditional heating and have been beset with problems.
Providers are working to tackle issues and say some schemes work brilliantly.
Instead of having a gas boiler in every home, heat networks send heat and hot water to numerous properties along a system of underground pipes from one central communal heat source.
This could be a mini-power station in the middle of a housing estate, or waste heat from a recycling plant or a factory.
Those living on the Myatt’s Field North Oval Quarter estate in Lambeth, South London get heat from a small power station in a building known as the submarine. The system, run by E.on, was installed when the estate was redeveloped.
Uzoamaka Okafor, chair of the residents’ association, said the problems were causing a lot of distress, particularly to elderly and vulnerable residents.
She said some smart meters did not work, which meant people were being sent high estimated bills, including some who were being asked for hundreds of pounds a month.
She said: “It’s been riddled with issues, from intermittent hot water and heating, a number of outages, to concerns around high estimates bills, customer service and technical faults.
“There are lots of residents that do not put their heating on at all; they go to bed early. I’ve bought one resident blankets, because she’s so distressed about bills she doesn’t want to put the heating on.”
Residents said some people were having to choose between heating and eating.
A report about the problems on the estate, written by Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action and Stuart Hodkinson from the University of Leeds, said there had been heat outages on 48 days in four years.
It detailed individual cases of vulnerable people left without heat for weeks and months on end.
It also details the case of Edward Connell, an elderly man thought to have been suffering with a form of dementia who told people he was struggling with high bills. He died of heart failure in October. The report said there was no food in his flat when he died.