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Monday 27 October saw the launch of an energy bill with a difference; the Energy Bill of Rights. Put together by Fuel Poverty Action, this declaration unites the right to have warm homes (and dinner!) with the right to protect our local environments and climate.
A packed room at the House of Commons included people fighting the energy companies and landlords – over prices, unfair billing, cut-yourself-off meters, inefficient boilers and bad housing – alongside people fighting to stop fracking, nuclear subsidies, and for renewable energy under public control. The launch was supported by John McDonnell, MP, and Caroline Lucas MP who will introduce an Early Day Motion.
Sadly, as well as unregulated private profiteers, the landlords people are up against are often housing associations. Tenants from Ruislip, Haringey and Brixton can testify to the lack of choice, extortionate billing and inefficient heating systems imposed on them by their social landlords, often on the backs of ‘regeneration’. One representative from Longtown, Cumbria shared their experience of a housing association that imposed a new, unsuitable heating system that tenants can not afford.
Together with the Energy Bill a new mini-guide to existing rights for people in trouble with their energy companies was released. Many thousands are locked in battles over their debts and bills, but are too often fighting alone. Some rights do exist; to negotiate debt payments, not to be cut off, not to be forced to put fuel debts above feeding your children. Fuel Poverty Action would be glad to be in touch with anyone who would like to help make this information available in their community.
A movement of self-help and solidarity could end the uncontrolled financial violence of the bullying Big Six energy companies. It could also give us the muscle to demand our so-far unrecognised rights; put energy in the hands of the people who need it to keep warm; and put the lie to the line that we must now choose between our economic survival and a life-sustaining climate.
These rights are reasonable, practical, and essential. They are:
1. We all have the right to affordable energy to meet our basic needs. Everyone should be able to cook food and keep warm when it’s cold.
2. We all have the right to energy that does not harm us, the envionment or the climate. This means shifting from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable energy from the sun, wind and waves.
3. We all have the right to energy that does not threaten health, safety, water, wair or the local environment of a community. This means no fracking and no unwanted oil and gas pipelines through communities.
4. We all have the right to a fair pricing system that does not penalise those who use less. The standing charge should be abolished. People should not pay more per unit when they cut down their energy use.
5. We all have the right not to be cut off from our energy supply. We should not be disconnected because we cannot afford to pay our bills or top up our meters.
6. We all have the right not to be forced onto a prepayment meter. Energy companies should have no right to break into our homes and install them against our will.
7. We all have the right to energy that is owned by us and run in our interests. Energy should not be run in the interests of big business and shareholders. There is an important role for both local and community ownership and democratic public ownership.
8. We all have the right to properly insulated well repaired housing that does not waste energy. This must include protection for tenants who demand it from their landlords who may fear eviction if they approach their landlords in pursuit of this right.