Residents of an Oban housing estate say they are forced to freeze or pay up to £20 a day to heat their homes.
Glenshellach – known locally as “behind the hospital” – uses a biomass fuel system to heat social housing on one side of the estate, and in other social housing electric storage heating was fitted.
The majority of tenants are stuck unable to change their heating source and provider as it is stated in their lease.
Tenants claim that when they signed their leases with West Highland Housing Association, biomass was sold to them as the most fuel-efficient way of heating a home in the country.
But recent rises in electricity and wood fuel mean costs have soared.
Rosalyn Anderson and her son are desperate to move out from their McKelvie Road home due to rising bills on their electric storage heating.
Rosalyn, who is disabled, told The Press and Journal: “It has been horrendous.
“I have recently been disabled and unable to get out as much as I was before – so this is the first year I have had to have the heating on to keep us warm during the day.
“I have my heating set to 18C, so the house is not hot, it is barely warm.
“I pay in advance, I put £100 in on Thursday, but that was not enough I am around £117 a week.
“I have put in for a smaller house.”
Rosalyn claims her daughter has the same house but with an air source heating – and that her heating costs are almost half.
She added: “It is costing about £1,500 for three months – that can not be right, and it is not affordable.
“My son has to help me out to keep the house warm.
“Neighbours are always asking each other about heating costs.
“The housing association needs to get a new system in place for residents as people are really struggling.”
Mum-of-one Gillian Munro has lived Hyskeir Gardens for a decade and says she has “never known it to be as bad as this”.
‘We can’t do anything about it’
She said: “It is at least £10 a day for heating and hot water, and on top of that, I pay around £100 a month for electricity.
“I just don’t think the housing association, West Highland Housing Association (WWHA) realise the extent of the problem.”
Gillian, who works from home, added: “We can’t do anything about it, as the cost of heating is part of our community fuel system.
“The cost is a real worry – not just for me – but for the whole community.
“I have long Covid and I work from home. I work in layers of clothes with an Oodie on top just to keep warm.
“My daughter and my partner both have asthma, so we need to put on the heating.
“I see that some of my neighbours are only able to turn it on for an hour in the evening.”
Mum-of-three paying £20 a day for heating alone
Neighbour Elizabeth Kennedy said: “It is costing me £20 a day for heating alone, it is a nightmare.”
The mum-of-three continued: “I was paying what I was asked by the company who were collecting the money, but I got into arrears and I am now having to pay that off at the same time as the bills coming in.
“We are all wrapped up in the house, and we are wearing Oodies to keep warm.”
But she says she, her husband and her children are “never that warm”.
Demanding that the system was sorted out to make it more affordable for tenants, she added: “You should be allowed to choose your heating provider.”
Another woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It has been too expensive to put on the heating throughout the day, so my children are cold all day until we put on the heating for a couple of hours at night.
“When it comes near to the time that I am due my benefit I am choosing between heating and food.
“These costs are so high, I don’t know what I am going to do.”
A West Highland Housing Association spokesperson said: “We are happy to investigate any concerns from customers whose homes have been colder than they would have liked due to the recent cold weather.
“Our dedicated advice service is also available to customers experiencing financial difficulties.
“Please get in touch with us on 01631 566451 or 0300 323 1170 (freephone).
“You can also contact our advice service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling them at the phone numbers above.”
He added: “We have found that in cases where tenants work from home or stay in their homes most days, these homes, on average, use more energy for heating and hot water.”
How does biomass heating work and how much does it cost?
Biomass energy is generated by burning wood, plants and organic matter before being used to power central heating and boilers.
Heating and hot water for properties in the Glenshellach District Heating Scheme comes from a central biomass plant room.
West Highland Housing Association says tariffs for residents must be balanced with rising costs for electricity and wood fuel.
At the moment the price per kWh is 18.5p, with a standing charge of 38.5p per day.
The 2024 electricity price cap is set by the government at 28.4p per kWh and a standing charge of 59.3p.