Scottish councils unable to repair homes for refugees and homeless amid claims OVO Energy has cut off power

Scottish councils claim they are being forced to leave properties lying empty that could be used to house vulnerable homeless people and refugees after a new energy firm refused to supply power to uninhabited buildings.

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes said councils told him OVO Energy, which acquired previous supplier, Perth-based SSE, more than a year ago, had told local authorities it will not provide an energy supply for “void” properties, leaving them unable to carry out essential maintenance necessary to make properties habitable to new tenants.

OVO, however, insisted it had not told local authorities it will not supply power to empty council-owned properties, nor has it stopped providing supplies.

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In a letter to OVO Energy founder, Stephen Fitzpatrick, Mr Docherty-Hughes said the council is now struggling to house vulnerable local residents with disabilities and mental health needs, as well as refugees fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, due to a lack of properties available. He said OVO had told councils it would not honour previous agreements drawn up with SSE.

Scottish councils have accused OVO Energy of refusing to honour contracts with former supplier SSE, which was bought by OVO last year.

He wrote: “It’s my understanding that, following the takeover of SSE by OVO Energy, West Dunbartonshire Council has been informed its previous partnership agreement with SSE will now not be honoured by OVO Energy. This means the council cannot get an energy supply for its currently void properties which it needs in order to carry out necessary repair works to make properties ready for new tenants.

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“As a result of OVO Energy’s decision to terminate this partnership agreement, West Dunbartonshire Council is now struggling to make suitable properties available for vulnerable people in my constituency who have found themselves homeless. This includes refugee families from Afghanistan being resettled in partnership with the UK Home Office, and local residents with disabilities and mental health needs who require additional support.”

He added: “I am seriously concerned about the impact the lack of energy supply for empty properties is having on the availability of suitable housing stock for vulnerable families. It is my understanding too that there are other local authority areas in Scotland experiencing similar problems following OVO Energy’s takeover of SSE.”

A message sent to Mr Doherty-Hughes from West Dunbartonshire Council said the situation with OVO Energy remained “at an impasse”. It is understood around four other councils in Scotland are affected by the same problem.

A spokesperson for West Dunbartonshire Council said: “In common with a number of other organisations, we received notice that SSE/OVO would be ending our preferred energy supplier contract for new properties. This is resulting in delays to the restoration of power and the turnaround time to re-let our void properties.

"We are meeting with SSE/OVO and remain hopeful a resolution can be reached. In addition we are raising this nationally through the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO).”

Mr Fitzpatrick, whose personal wealth is estimated at £600m following the takeover of SSE to create Britain’s second largest energy company, is a Tory donor. The former banker founded OVO Energy in Bristol 10 years ago and still holds a 67 per cent stake in the company, which was valued at £1bn before the SSE deal.

In a letter to Mr Doherty-Hughes, Ian Crowther, head of partnership sales at OVO Energy, said the firm was seeking a meeting with the council, but claimed the problem could have arisen by previous tenants being on pre-pay meters.

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