Row over refund of energy bill payments to Bristol tenants

People living in sheltered accommodation in Barton Hill claim they have been left out of pocket by their housing provider Brunelcare. Earlier in the year the tenants at Rowan Court were informed that they were due money back from their energy bills and they believed that everyone would get £277.

Brunelcare had made a successful application for the higher rate of the government’s Energy Bills Discount Scheme on behalf of all its tenants. It told Bristol Live that for tenants with rent arrears, part of the credit will go towards reducing the debt.

But five tenants who spoke to Bristol Live said that they were told at a meeting and by letter they would be given this money. Although the letter said that ‘rent arrears’ will be taken into account, the tenants say they do not have any rent arrears or been told by Brunelcare they owed any rent.

READ MORE: 'I'm scared in my own home, thanks to housing charity'

READ MORE: Misleading change in NHS dentist list gives false hope to patients

Angie, who moved into her flat three years ago, says that she pays the rent and services charges each month via direct debit and has never missed a payment. Like Angie, the other tenants who have been told they will not be getting the rebate say they pay the amount due each month and have never been informed of any arrears.

Angie, who still is unsure of how she is in rent arrears, feels that there has been poor communication between the charity and tenants. She added: “They should have explained that to us, nobody said anything to us and we had nothing in writing.

“We are not stupid here, maybe there are some older folks here who don’t know what’s going on but we know what’s going on. They did not notify us that we should pay the money.”

Brian, another tenant at Rowan Court is upset over the way they are being treated He said: “I want to know what gives Brunelcare the right to distribute our money, it’s not their money, it’s our money which was passed back to Brunelcare to pass out among us.

“We are entitled to the full money back. They’ve taken all the money and they have decided what to do with it but it was never their money it was always our money. We got overcharged because of a slip up between the two of them and now we have got to pay for it. What gives them the right?”

Another tenant Mary was told that she would need to prove she was not in arrears if she wanted the money. Mary said: “We know we haven’t got arrears, I have been here for 18 years in August.”

Rowan Court in Barton Hill is an independent living housing complex managed by Brunelcare -Credit:Yvonne Deeney
Rowan Court in Barton Hill is an independent living housing complex managed by Brunelcare -Credit:Yvonne Deeney

Bob, who did get the £277 electricity rebate, said that he switched from paying via direct debit to going to the post office after speaking to a member of staff at head office. “They told me that when you are on direct debit you’ll always be in arrears so I pay at the post office on the day that they want it,” he explained.

The tenants are upset by how they have been treated by Brunelcare over a cost-of-living voucher that was given to some residents in Rowan Court but not others. Mary, who has recently been told she is not entitled to the voucher, said that she was faced with personal questions over how much money she spends on her children and grandchildren.

“It broke my heart, I felt terrible. It’s nothing to do with Brunelcare how much money I spend on my grandchildren. I have never been asked that in my life,” added Mary, who said the voucher was given to everyone the previous year.

“My head was splitting when I left because I don’t swear. He told me I was not going to get it,” added Angie who was questioned over her daughter giving her lifts and helping her with shopping.

Brunelcare's response

A spokesperson for Brunelcare said: “Brunelcare successfully applied to the higher rate of the government’s Energy Bills Discount Scheme last year on behalf of all our housing residents. We have committed to ensuring that the full credit we received from our energy company is passed on to residents, and no part of that credit will be retained by the charity.

“The process of administering this scheme is highly complicated, not least because Brunelcare has residents on a range of different tenancy agreements. All residents will receive a credit, but for those who have rent arrears, the credit will go towards reducing all or part of those arrears. For those residents who are not in arrears, the credit will be returned to them as a refund.

“The financial value of the credits will vary for individual residents, partly depending on people’s personal energy usage, as well as if they are in receipt of housing benefit. Credits are also impacted by the number of bills we have received for different sites from our energy company. We are in regular contact with our energy suppliers to chase up any outstanding bills.

“This scheme is a one-off and is not something Brunelcare has ever dealt with before. We understand some residents have felt frustrated with the process, but we are making every effort to return these credits to them as soon as possible.”