Last Christmas, we cooked our Christmas dinner in one of those bed sit ovens and a camping stove, balanced on top of the huge attractive gas range oven that sat, uselessly, in our kitchen. The snow was a foot deep outside, and I slept downstairs on the bed settee – the kids had a downstairs bedroom, but the inefficient heating didn’t reach the attic conversion where I and my husband slept, and our baby still needed breastfeeds in the night, so I slept downstairs. Our gas bill was £120 a month, despite us being as careful as we could and shopping around – the heating was that inefficient.
The gas fire had been condemned and disconnected (as, indeed, had the range oven) but at least the central heating kept the downstairs at an acceptable temperature. The heating had been disconnected once, after a carbon dioxide alarm went off, but we were lucky that we could send the children to my inlaws for that night – our then three year old has asthma and our youngest was only just past one, so the emergency electric heater provided by the emergency gas man didn’t fill me with confidence.
We couldn’t do anything about these issues as we privately rented – our landlord wouldn’t pay for the improvements or give us permission to do so ourselves, and the law only made them provide us with some heating, which we had. If we withheld any of our £525 a month rent, we faced the prospect of eviction, and moving would mean we would have to find letting agent fees, moving costs and a new deposit – the new landlord would need a deposit before we moved in, and the old landlord would only pay back the one from the old house once we had moved out. We had also applied for schools in the area, got to know the neighbours and had my husband’s parents round the corner – this was by no means the first awful landlord we had suffered, so we didn’t want to give up the positive aspects of out home to risk an even worse landlord.
As it turned out, that summer the landlord gave us two months notice to leave – he wanted his daughter to live in the house. So, over two months, we had to find the £1000 we needed to move, whilst still paying the rent, on one wage. All for a whim of the landlord.
A month after we had the eviction letter, a gas fitter turned up to do the repairs.