A YOUNG family with a new-born baby were left without heating after their gas supply was cut off.
Joseph O’Donnell and his daughter Fawna moved into a flat in North Shields to find the gas supply had been switched off.
Joseph O’Donell and his family were left without heating and hot water
Eight-week-old Fawna was left freezing
Despite repeated attempts to reach out to the supplier, Joseph told ITV news that his family were forced to live in the freezing cold and left unable to bathe their eight-week-old baby.
The gas supply was cut off after the previous tenants ran up hundreds of pounds in energy arrears due to a fault with the utility meter.
The supplier sent letters to the flat demanding hundreds of pounds in payments, and threatened visits from bailiffs over the previous tenant’s debt.
After swaddling Fawna in thick blankets to keep her warm, Joseph and his partner were forced to rely on a small electric heater.
Without hot water, Joseph was unable to bathe Fawna at home.
Instead, he walked the 45-minute journey to his mother-in-law’s house each time their daughter needed a bath.
Joseph, who was forced to give up his job due to a chronic pain condition and now relies on Universal Credit, said bus fare is too expensive for the family.
He said: “It is like £4.70 each just to get the bus there, which when you’re on strict money, it’s really hard.
“You’re lucky if [a tub of formula] lasts a week, maybe a week and a half, which if you’re only getting two or three hundred quid at most a month.
“It does take a massive chunk out of what you are able to do.
‘”It doesn’t seem like it’s enough, with Universal Credit especially, when you have a kid to look after.
“With everything rising, with the electricity rising, it never seems like there is enough to go around.”
Almost two months after the family were given the keys to the council-owned flat, their gas supply has only now been reconnected.
This meant Fawna spent her first weeks in a flat that was, at times, “extremely cold”.
In a statement to ITV the energy supplier, Utilita, apologised “for the frustration and inconvenience caused to Mr O’Donnell and his family” and acknowledged it had ”failed to meet our own high expectations”.
The company said it should have set up the family’s account “in a timelier manner” and acted more quickly “to diagnose a gas meter commissioning issue, which we have since rectified”.
Utilita added that the family’s electricity bill has been cleared by the company and credit added to both of their utility meters.
The family say they informed their landlord, North Tyneside Council, about the situation and were told they would receive electric heaters.
North Tyneside Council told ITV News it has no record of correspondence with the family on this subject.
In a statement, Peter Mennell, director of housing and property at North Tyneside Council, said: “We want all our council tenants to live in safe, secure properties and our housing and repairs teams support them quickly and professionally whenever a concern is raised.’’
“I am sorry that this family has had difficulties with their energy provider, gas, central heating and hot water and I am pleased that a positive resolution has been reached.”
What are your rights if your supply gets cut off?
If you do find that you’ve been cut off, you should call your supplier immediately to find out what has happened.
You can find out who your energy supplier is here, and they should step in to get you reconnected.
Make a note of any extra costs you’ve racked up, such as buying and running an electric heater.
You can then make a complaint and apply for compensation.
How to do that will depend on your supplier and you should check with them directly.
If you have a smart energy meter in your home, your supplier could potentially disconnect your supply remotely without needing access to your meter.
If you don’t pay your energy bill, your supplier may cut you off or refer you to debt collectors, and install a pre-payment meter through a court warrant.
Usually, a supplier will do all it can to help so you are not cut off.
They should give you a chance to pay your debt through a payment plan.
Most suppliers have signed up to an agreement called the Energy UK Vulnerability Commitment.
You can check if your supplier has signed up to the commitment by contacting them or checking their website.
If your supplier has signed up, they won’t disconnect you between October 1 and March 31 if you live with children under 16.
If your supplier hasn’t signed up to the commitment, they should take your situation into account, but they’re not obliged to.
If you’ve been threatened with being disconnected but think you shouldn’t be, contact your supplier and let them know.
They should visit your home to check on your situation before they do anything.
You can make a complaint if they decide to go ahead and disconnect you – and organisations like Citizen’s Advice can help you to do this.