‘A nightmare' - Woman sits in cold dark flat every night and cries

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Laura claims she has not had electricity in her social-rent apartment for three weeks. "This is a different kind of depression,” she says.

A Merseyside woman claims she sits in the dark and cries every night having not had electricity in her rented home for three weeks. Laura, who asked to only use her first name, is a tenant in a social-rent apartment in Southport, owned by Green Pastures.

Green Pastures provides housing and support to vulnerable people with a particular focus on individuals experiencing homelessness. Back in May 2023, Laura was once such case and had been living on the streets of Liverpool for 30 days. But having moved into a new home, which was a lifeline at the time, she says the situation has now become ‘a nightmare.’

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For the last three weeks, Laura says she’s been without electricity. She said: “One the first night I cried and cried and cried. I felt so down and so cold. I’ve never felt more down before. Even when my mum died, my auntie died and my brother died - this is a different kind of depression.”

An aggravating factor to Laura’s housing situation is her physical health. Laura says she suffers from Myotonic dystrophy (MD). She said: “Its a muscle wasting disease and the cold makes my muscle sore. I can't put the heating on as the boiler needs electric to work. With me being in a flat without heating. I’m constantly in agony as the cold gets into my muscles’

Laura is 38 and fears she only has a few years left to live because of her worsening condition. She is scared for the future, but her present situation is now causing severe distress. She said: “It just feels like I’m sinking and sinking more and more.”

According to Laura, the problems with her housing started when an electrician visited her flat for a routine safety inspection. The day after the inspection, Laura claims problems started with her electric meter and says it was consuming her credit much quicker than before the electrician’s visit.

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Previously, Laura said she was paying approximately £5 per week. Afterwards and according to her calculations, Laura says she was suddenly paying £15 per day. She said: “I am only receiving Universal Credit and only have been getting around £280 a month, how could I possibly pay nearly £400 a month electric?”.

This claim is disputed by her landlord Green Pastures. They said: “GP visited the property on 29.01.24 with an Electrician and informed Laura of the change in electricity rates in person. Laura was informed of and agreed with the increase: The Housing Manager asked her verbally (with the electrician and his son present, as witnesses) if was she happy. Laura said yes, adding that she had made a mistake and that the meter wasn’t charging her £12 a day as she had thought, and that she was happy with the tariffs that were set as explained.”

Laura sits in her Southport flat. Image: Elliot JessettLaura sits in her Southport flat. Image: Elliot Jessett
Laura sits in her Southport flat. Image: Elliot Jessett | Elliot Jessett

Green Pastures visited Laura in late January and informed her they had made a mistake with the electricity costs. A spokesperson added: “In the Green Pastures Utilities Meeting in December it was flagged up that Laura had only spent £79 for the 6-month duration of her tenancy on electricity, and with this being so low, the team realised that the increases from 18 pence per unit rate (the charge 4 years ago) to 30p, 50p and then 65p hadn’t been applied by Green Pastures to Laura’s meter over a four year period.”

The statement added: “It was explained to Laura that she had been undercharged significantly for electricity at 18 pence per unit rate, with no service charge, up until 29.01.24, and that there would be a significant increase in electricity costs because of this for future usage, to bring costs into line with current rates.

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“Whilst other Green Pastures tenants in other flats in the property had already had an increase from 18p to 30p, 50p and then 65p over a 4-year period, and pay a £3.50 weekly standing charge, Laura’s increase to bring closer in line with current rates was from 18p to 50p per unit rate, with a 65pence weekly standing charge. (This new rate is lower than the cost Green Pastures pay to the supplier, so we are still subsidising her electricity costs).”

“We explained the details and reasons for the change at the time of the visit on 29.01.24, including discussing the fact that this would feel like a big jump in electricity outgoings, and Laura agreed that she was happy with this, and the rates as laid out by the housing manager.”

Green Pastures accept that they made a mistake when Laura took on the tenancy. The organisation said the charge would be 18p per unit but this was a significant undercharging. The confirmed current rate which should be charged is 65p per unit. Therefore, Laura would be subject to a 261% increase in energy costs.

Green Pastures says all other residents are on the 65p rate and the increase from 18p has happened over the course of fours years. According to a spokesperson for Green Pastures, the increase is a consequence of inflation and the huge rise in energy costs.

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Laura said she agreed to the increase unit price as she didn’t want to be paying less than her neighbours. However, she is clear she doesn’t want to be paying more than her neighbours which she claims she now is because every time she tops up credit it either get used up by debt on the meter or lasts only 24 hrs.

As a tenant of Green Pastures, Laura must purchase credit on payment cards provided by Green Pastures, take them home and insert them directly into the meter. Green Pastures say the meter does not and cannot have any debt on it. On our visit, there did appear to show a debt amount on the meter but we were not able to verify the full details behind what was showing on the screen.

Besides the technical points of what is and what is not happening with the electricity meter, Laura maintains she is currently living without electricity and does not have the money or, in her words, the support to get it turned on again.

Every day, Laura walks around Southport looking for help. She has been to see her local MP, Citizens Advice and even a solicitor. She initially went to visit a contact at Green Pastures who gave her cards which could be used for electricity credit. However, Laura says the meter took the majority for debt and left her with £12 credit. She claims this lasted one day before running out and Green Pastures have offered no further support.

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The symptoms of her Myotonic dystrophy mean Laura is in pain 24 hours a day and moving about is difficult for her. She says her daily walks around Southport’s are leaving her physically and mentally exhausted.

Green Pastures dispute the claim Laura has been living without electricity. A spokesperson said: “Laura was gifted a £40 electric card on 28th Jan by Shoreline church, just 9 days ago. And then she purchased another £5 from Green Pastures the following day (8 days ago), so it would not be possible for her to have been without electricity for over 14 days unless she didn’t use the electricity cards which we and Shoreline supplied her.”

According to Laura, it has now been almost three weeks without electricity. She said “I have tried many times to talk to the landlord and sort this out but they just keep calling me a liar even though I have video proof and have been begging for them to come out and fix it”

On the time of writing, no further progress has been made. Laura has contacted her MP Damian Moore in the hope of finding some resolution.

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