SDEN: A timeline of council bungling and sky-high fuel prices

Sutton Council’s handling of its energy network has placed a number of families who have moved into the Barratt’s-built New Mill Quarter at Hackbridge in “fuel poverty”.

This timeline tells a story of denial, dishonesty and outright incompetence

2018: The first residents move into the New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, built on the site of what was previously the Felnex trading estate. They all have to sign up to SDEN as their heating and hot water supplier. It is not long before some submit complaints over the high charges for heating. SDEN denies any complaints have been received.

Unreal McCoy: councilor said the sky-high fuel bills were ‘as expected’

Jan 2020: SDEN heating for residents of NMQ costs up to three times more than the market rate. Complaints continue to go unresolved. SDEN does not investigate its pricing and advises residents to turn their heating down. Questions are raised in the House of Commons.

Jan 7: NMQ Residents reach out to Liberal Democrat councillors Ben Andrew, Vincent Gilligan and Hannah Zuchowska, asking them to sign a collective complaint. None respond. Residents contact Jayne McCoy, another Sutton LibDem who worked to get SDEN established. She also refuses to sign the collective complaint. Despite the high bills received by residents, McCoy states pricing is working “as expected”.

Jan 20: Residents show a pricing model review to SDEN’s managing director depicting charges up to £3million over the market rate. Simon Woodward, an ex-director of SDEN and their pricing consultant, declares pricing is “incomparable to the market” and that they “set a price they thought was a fair price”. Ben Andrew and council staff are present and hear the pricing consultant’s revelation. That evening, residents put a question to a meeting of the full council. Council leaders try to shutdown the session before the residents are heard resulting in one resident interrupting proceedings and forcing the question on to the recording of the meeting. The Labour Party formally backs residents of NMQ.

Jan 21: A collective complaint signed by 165 residents is sent to SDEN with a deadline for response of February 20. None of the councillors have signed the complaint, nor do council staff despite the information they’ve been provided and what they heard at the meeting.

Bogus: Ben Andrew

Feb 16: “Bogus Ben” Andrew sneaks on to the estate to hand-deliver the latest issue of Sutton Focus from the LibDems, co-signed by Hanna Zuchowska and Vincent Galligan, which appears to advertise SDEN and which states that its pricing is comparable to the market.

Feb 20: The deadline to respond to the complaint is missed, SDEN is made aware of the urgency as bills are mounting and one mother with a young child had been left without heating for nearly three weeks in the middle of winter.

Feb 27: A response is received from SDEN which states there is no misrepresentation and the pricing is as advertised. This is despite their own pricing consultant telling them it isn’t.

Mar 6: NMQ residents meet with Conservative MP Elliot Colburn who states he is behind them in their difficulties. Cross-party support is now in place from the council’s independent councillors, Labour and the Conservatives.

Mar 16: Andrews meets local residents and states that the SDEN charges being more than the market rate, as SDEN’s own pricing consultant stated, is just “the opinion” of residents and not fact.

May 1: SDEN releases its first annual pricing review. SDEN increases its standing charge to an average of more than £350 per year, before a customer has any heating at all. SDEN  claims its increases are linked to the rate of inflation. SDEN’s standing charge hike is nearly four times that of CPI.

June 4: A judge forces SDEN to release its secret pricing model after lengthy legal case brought by Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North. The model shows no market inputs and is based around a desired revenue. Residents ask their ward councillors to sign their new collective complaint now it is clear that SDEN has not been truthful. The LibDem councillors acknowledge receipt of complaint, but refuse to answer questions or sign the complaint.

Read more: Sutton heating network leaves residents in fuel poverty

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