Archives for category: Utilities

heater

It’s cold. Well it’s not that cold, not outside anyway, but I am cold.

My flat uses night-store heaters and when I switched them on for the first time this autumn they tripped the power circuit out. These are big old heaters; probably as old as the flat; they just don’t feel safe anymore so I switched them off and decided to replace them. All well and good.

Now night-store heaters it seems are expensive – about £1000 for two. I was also not aware – though it’s probably fairly obvious if I think about it – that they are full of heavy heating bricks. I approached my small local electrical retailer who is excellent. The woman (always a good sign in my view) came round with a measuring tape, chose a couple of new heaters for me, and got them delivered without much fuss which is just as I like it. I found myself temporarily accommodating two very large cardboard boxes and a pile of heavy bricks on my nice wooden floor. She arranged for an electrician to come around at my convenience – so a Saturday then – to install them.

Saturday came, and so eventually did the electrician. He set to work with the aid of a cuppa and removed the first heater. He carted a stack of bricks out into the communal hallway leaving scrap metal propped up in my living room. He then fixed the new heater onto the wall but was clearly starting to have difficulty. A few moments later he said he was to ill to continue. Before leaving he assured me everything was safe but I now had one new heater fixed to the wall but unusable without bricks inside. The remains of the old one and the bricks from it distributed around my flat and outside in the hall. I felt I had little choice but to get those to the dump myself which was hard work but not insurmountable for a forty year old by herself. My nails suffered.

Now I await the return of the electrician “sometime in the next few days”. I hope he’s okay. I feel guilty about pursuing it.

So here I am. Cold. I’ve been chilly for the last two weeks but I knew I was getting the heaters fixed and it wouldn’t be long but now the weather is turning colder and I don’t know how long it will be.

My experience with electricians isn’t good. I have had another electrical job needing done for quite some time but haven’t been able to get anyone to do it. The job’s too small apparently. In years gone it’s the sort of job I might have done myself, but I am  not a qualified electrician so that is now against the rules, but changing a couple of light fittings isn’t big enough for a qualified electrician so they haven’t been done. I have ceiling lights which I’m frightened to use. The chances of me having a “big” electrical job in a very small flat are limited so now the heaters are being done the lights will be done as well once the electrician is fit to do them.

Anyway back to the cold. I took the prime minister’s advice and put on another sweater. He’s right, it does make you warmer. A bit. Though as I say it’s not really cold yet. But just being a degree or so cold is a problem. You become lethargic and don’t want to do anything. Most of the housework I intended to do this weekend didn’t get done because I just wanted to sit on the sofa huddled around my portable heater and keep warm. I didn’t do it last weekend either for the same reason so the place is getting dirty. I haven’t washed my towels or sheets because I don’t want wet linen drying when there’s no heat – I’m in an upstairs flat so I don’t have access to any other drying facilities beyond a clothes horse and a night-store heater. I daren’t open the windows when I’m cooking for fear of drafts chilling the fabric of the flat even more, so now the place smells of food and there is condensation from the steam making the window frames damp. I’m coming down with a cold.

I’m lucky I have a job. I can go to work where there is a reasonable level of warmth but what of those who don’t work? Pensioners? The disabled? As I’m finding, being cold isn’t just about being cold, it also contributes to a downward spiral of general squalor, poor health and misery. Nor is it always down to poverty or fecklessness, sometimes it can just happen by accident. Maybe that’s worth remembering next time you tell someone to wear an extra jumper.

It’s spring again though you wouldn’t know it judging by the weather. So it’s time for the annual conversation with my electricity supplier. 

Every year at this time they look at my usage for the past six months (winter) and double my direct debit for the next six months (summer). This year I was expecting my monthly repayments to increase as the price per unit has increased; I’ve also used more than usual this winter. 

As things stand my account is £180 in the red. It was £90 in the black at the end of last summer although they credited me £50 at my request – with hindsight it might have been better to leave it given the increase in rates – most winters put me in the red and most summers end with me in the black. In other words I make up my winter overspend with my summer underspend. 

My electricity company usually estimates my summer usage based on my winter usage and hikes my direct debit. I presume they do this with everyone which I think is wrong. Some people will just pay it and suffer as a consequence. The electricity company will accrue the interest until they’re asked to return the money or it’s used up by increased charges. 

This was confirmed to me when I called them. I had been through my last three bills with a fine toothed comb. I had my sums done. I’d worked it out. I had it on a piece of paper to justify my claim that the rise was excessive and I largely based my argument on their own estimate of my projected usage for the next twelve months. I told the operative that they had more than doubled my monthly direct debit from £35 to £72 and that this was a problem. Without any further argument the operative said “okay, I’ll reduce it to £40”. Just like that. Not 60; not 55; but 40. I found myself negotiating up: I know I overspent more than usual and the price per unit has gone up. I’m not stupid. I said I’d pay £45. I had gone into the call expecting to pay 50 which I would have considered reasonable given the unusual circumstances. 

What shocked me was the lack of justification required. It always does. The previous couple of years the operative has said something to the effect of “oh dear that looks like a mistake. I’ll send you an amended bill”. This year he didn’t even do that. You have to ask the question don’t you?