MORE THAN 200 sheltered housing tenants in Shetland are to start paying their own electricity bills for the first time, after the local council agreed to end a 30 year old subsidy scheme.
Shetland Islands Council hopes to save £80,000 a year by handing over responsibility to sheltered housing tenants for their own power bills.
A further £25,000 a year will be saved by Shetland Charitable Trust.
The move is part of the council’s massive savings drive to cut spending by 20 per cent over five years by 2017.
However tenants are angry that they only heard about the decision last week, five weeks before they lose the subsidy.
Since the 1980s the oil rich SIC has added a charge to the rent for its 215 sheltered housing tenancies to cover the cost of electricity.
The charge ranges from £11.45 a week for a bedsit to £18.25 for a two bedroom house.
The subsidy was originally largely paid for by the charitable trust, which also doled out a Christmas bonus to every pensioner and disabled islander regardless of their wealth.
The trust’s input was reduced during the 1990s when the council implemented a series of energy saving measures, such as new storage heaters and improved insulation.
However since then the cost to the council has risen along with energy prices.
The council’s housing department spent the past 12 months examining the least painful way of implementing the savings, but only informed tenants of the move in a letter last week.
Staff said they were working with the council’s energy unit to offer advice on saving energy, something tenants have not had to think about before.
They have also pledged to examine any complaints about drafts and poor insulation, and have put the local Citizens Advice Bureau on alert that they may receive requests for help.
Housing wardens are also being trained up to inform tenants about all the benefits they may be entitled to as a result of the change, such as the £130 a year Warm Homes Deal.
However the tenants themselves are worried about the impact on their livelihood, some expecting to lose up to £200 a year. Others fear they will be forced to go cold during the winter months.
Eileen Petrie, who moved into a sheltered house at Leog, in Lerwick, five years ago said this had come as a shock and she had no idea what her actual electricity costs would be.
“I think the council knew about this for a while and we just found about it when a letter arrived last week and I don’t think that’s fair.
“I was so surprised, and I know the council needs to save money but if we had been given some fair warning then we could have prepared ourselves.
“It’s a while since I paid an electricity bill, but I know that charges have gone up a lot.”
SIC social services committee chairman Cecil Smith said there was inequality if people in sheltered houses should have subsidised electricity, while other council tenants did not.
He also said that he had thought the tenants had been contacted about the change prior to last week.
He added: “The council is not in the same financial state as it was when it introduced these subsidies and we need to make the savings.”