Hundreds of families in Falkirk villages are fearing the winter ahead as they continue to struggle to pay astronomically high power bills.
Last summer, Falkirk Council committed to replacing the heating systems in almost 800 properties in Braes villages, after ScottishPower discovered an issue with the boilers.
But a year on, the council has now told villagers more work is needed to continue with the project.
Campaigners say this is leaving dozens of families in extreme poverty and many residents will be left with the choice whether to heat their homes or eat for another winter.
In 2019, Claire Brown and Fiona Gordon, from Slamannan, started the Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages campaign, when they discovered hundreds of residents in surrounding villages were paying in excess of £100 per week for their electric heating.
Ms Brown told STV News: “We are the people that have been dealing with everyone’s problems and issues with this system.
“We have to deal with the hardships that they are facing – we had to create a foodbank to support people because they don’t have enough money after putting all their money in an electricity meter.
“We are now back where we started, what do we do next?
“It’s going to take someone to die before anything will be done about this.”
The campaign led ScottishPower to investigate why the boilers were costing residents so much money. It discovered some homes were using three time more energy than the national average due to the boilers being inadequate for the properties.
The villages affected, such as Slamannan, California, Avonbridge, Whitecross and Limerigg, have no gas supply. Until the council installed the current wet electric heating systems, the homes in these areas relied on coal and electric storage heaters.
Falkirk Council told STV News when the systems were put in ten years ago, they were the most economical at the time.
In June 2020, Ms Brown and Ms Gordon announced to hundreds of villagers in a Facebook live video that the town’s gas supplies would be extended and 667 homes were going to be fitted with gas central heating.
Ms Gordon said: “A full year has passed and nothing has progressed.
“Falkirk Council have let us think we are getting gas for a year and then whipped it from right under our noses.”
STV News spoke to Mina and Andrew Black from Whitecross. They are just one of the families who claim they pay between £100-£150 per week for their heating.
They said they may be forced to give up their home if the high power costs continue.
Mrs Black said: “We don’t want to give up but we might have no choice – we can’t afford the heating. We are terrified for the winter ahead.
“I’m glad I can bake, I’m glad I can crochet, it’s the only way we can save money to put in the meter.”
Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, told STV News: “Falkirk Council has committed to finding a sustainable solution for the residents and that’s where we are right now.
“We did a costing for the project and the council allocated money towards that.
“Unfortunately, the quote has come back significantly higher than anticipated and we need to understand why that is. We are working with Scottish Gas Networks to look at what has created that difference and see if we can find a way forward.”
She added: “We accept that people are in extreme poverty, particularly as a result of the pandemic.
“Until we get an agreement around the costs and be able to sign the contracts to be able to put gas into homes, Falkirk Council can’t go in and change the heating systems.
“We will look to do whatever we can to help those in the greatest need.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We are aware of the challenges facing many energy consumers in the Falkirk Braes area.
“Home Energy Scotland, an organisation funded by the Scottish Government, have engaged with these consumers alongside Falkirk Council and Scottish Gas Networks to learn more about these issues and we will engage with Falkirk Council and network owners to explore potential solutions.”
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