Tackling the Cold Homes Crisis

MQT on 2014-02-26
Session date: 
February 26, 2014
Question By: 
Murad Qureshi
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Have you taken any measures to reduce utility bills for Londoners this winter and, if so, what?


Answer for Tackling the Cold Homes Crisis

Answer for Tackling the Cold Homes Crisis

Answered By: 
The Mayor

You are asking about what we have done to reduce utility bills in London.  I told you.  I met you in the lift the other day and said I was going to give you some amazing news about retrofitting.  Do you remember?


Murad Qureshi AM:  I do not.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Do you mean you were not interested in what I was going to tell you about retrofitting?  Do you mean to say you glazed over, Murad, and did not care?  I will tell you anyway.  We have retrofitted more than 100,000 homes through the RE:NEW programme and that helped overall to reduce Londoners’ energy bills - to get to your point exactly - by £2.3 million this winter and over, obviously, many more winters to come.  The figure I thought you would be interested in is that, in total, we have retrofitted since 2008 more than 400,000 homes now, which is double our target.  How about that?  It is pretty good.


Murad Qureshi AM:  Mr Mayor, we have covered this ground before and I did not really want to get into the retrofitting.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Why not?


Murad Qureshi AM:  What I wanted to get into was actually the utility bills.  If you read the question correctly, that is what I was focusing on.  I just wanted to tell you about a cost‑of‑living survey that I have undertaken.  There were over 2,000 respondents to the survey and we found that 85% of them identified utility bills like gas and electricity as their main concern about the cost of living.


I just want, for the record, to know what you did when Thames Water attempted to hike their water bills by £29 for 2014/15.  That is seven times your proposed cut in the council tax.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You are asking now about water bills rather than cold homes and water does not affect the temperature of your home much, but since you want to ask ‑‑


Murad Qureshi AM:  It is a utility bill.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Your question says, “Tackling the Cold Homes Crisis”.


Murad Qureshi AM:  No, that is the header.  Look at the question.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  OK, it is about water now.  I will happily answer questions about water bills.


Murad Qureshi AM:  It is about utility bills.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The answer is that you are right to be concerned about water bills and one of the things that we need to be very careful of is that the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is on the whole a very good scheme, does not become a massive excuse for the payers of water bills in London to be paying huge amounts for a piece of infrastructure built by Thames Water that will greatly increase their regulated asset base and is therefore in their financial interests.  We need to be very vigilant about what is going on with water bills.


On the wider point of what is happening with energy consumption, which was the one that you highlighted as being the thing of greatest concern to Londoners, it is a fascinating thing.  If you look at international comparisons, including taxes, the costs of energy in this country and certainly in London are relatively low by comparison with other capitals.  The problem is that we have very high consumption of that electricity and that gas and we are using much more to heat our homes.  Therefore, the solution is to do the obvious thing and to retrofit and insulate and reduce consumption.  That is why I hoped you would be more excited, Murad, about what I had to say about retrofitting homes.


Murad Qureshi AM:  I had been asking questions about that before Christmas and I just changed my emphasis.  Just for the record, it should be noted that you actually did not respond to the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) consultation on that £29 hike, although I do agree we have to be very careful about what the proposed bill for the Thames Tideway Tunnel is.


I now move to another conclusion that we found from our survey, which demonstrated that 65‑year‑olds were hit particularly by spiralling energy costs and 63% of them were saying they have cut back on heating in order to pay their bills.  In particular, one person in response to the survey from Hounslow said, “I am worried sick about heating costs.  Life at our age is becoming frightening”.  Does it really concern you in the city of which you are Mayor that your people, Londoners, are terrified about what the next bill is going to mean for them?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You are right to make this point and I thank you for the work you are doing on this.  The Know Your Rights campaign is there.  We are trying to be as proactive as possible, working with councils to make sure elderly people do know the allowances they are entitled to for helping to heat their homes.


As I say, if you look at the consumption figures in London and the relative costs, one of the problems is we are spending so much more on heating our homes than we need to, partly because of lack of good insulation.  Many of those homes can be tackled with retrofitting.  In London, 40% of the housing stock has solid walls.  It is much more difficult in London to put in some of the basic insulation things that make a difference, but 400,000 so far is not a bad achievement and obviously we have very ambitious programmes over the next few years.


Murad Qureshi AM:  I am sorry you did not support our amendment in the budget for the Home Energy Advice Team, which the Citizens Advice Bureau also support.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The only reason I did not support your amendment, which I am sure was excellent in many respects, Murad, was because I believe that we can achieve what you want through other ways.  I am determined that we should.