HUNDREDS of the town’s worst-off tenants are facing a ‘heat or eat’ conundrum due to ‘outrageous’ charges from Barnsley Council, whistleblowers have revealed.

A row which initially broke out at the full council meeting earlier this year has continued after Dodworth ward’s Coun Peter Fielding spoke out again about the costs faced by cash-strapped tenants.( Coun Fielding has been working with Berneslai Homes to undertake a review into charges paid by residents in a community heating scheme in his ward.

He asked for an assurance that rates would be lowered if the review advised.

Coun Fielding said: “For over 12 months I have been fighting on behalf of the 51 tenants of the Polyfox Estate in Dodworth to get the charges for their heating reduced.

“The tenants who asked me for help feel that they are being overcharged by Barnsley Council for their heating supplied through a district scheme which they’re tied to and cannot switch their energy supplier to seek a better deal.

“After months of frustration, I raised the matter at full council but was given no indication by the ruling Labour council that they had any intention of tackling this problem which exists in 1,200 properties across Barnsley, even though many other councillors said they were aware of similar problems in their wards.”

Coun Fielding after his first plea at full council in February received a letter from a couple in Cudworth who claimed they pay £1,100 a year and choose whether to ‘heat or eat’, which was relayed back to councillors.

“Because of this, I raised the matter again last week, but again received no indication that the council would do anything to remedy this injustice,” he added.

“It’s not good enough to treat our vulnerable tenants like this, making them choose between heating or eating or having to go to bed to keep warm.

“The solution is in the council’s hands and they could simply reduce charges to a fair level but they’re choosing not to.

“These tenants cannot switch energy suppliers like most of us can, so Barnsley Council need to find a way of reducing the amount they charge these tenants for heating.

“I will not give up fighting for these residents until the council opt for the right thing and charge a fair price to vulnerable residents.”

A fuel poverty crisis gripping Barnsley’s most vulnerable residents for more than a decade has been cited as a key reason why the town’s winter death rate predominantly affecting the 65 to 84 age bracket is significantly higher than the national average.

The borough’s overall winter death rate is more than double the 14.2 per cent national average, with about 230 extra deaths attributed to cold weather during November 2018 to March 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Berneslai Homes’ director of property services, Arturo Gulla, added: “It’s important that our tenants live comfortably and are safe and warm at home therefore anyone who has a concern about their heating should contact us directly.

“Where tenants have contacted us about their heating, we have visited them to investigate what we can do to help improve their system’s performance and reduce costs.

“This includes checking that their heating is set up correctly and their controls and thermostats are working effectively.

“As part of our visit, we will also assess how well homes are insulated, and we will make improvements wherever we can.”

A council spokesperson said: “We continue to invest in insulation and energy efficiency improvements in council properties which help reduce bills to tenants while protecting the environment by reducing our carbon footprint.

“There are a number of district heating schemes in Barnsley, where a communal boiler or heat pump provides heat to multiple flats or homes. In these cases, tenants don’t have their own boiler, and they pay for ‘heat’ rather than paying directly for the fuel.

“We can confirm that district and community heating schemes are being reviewed and discussions between Barnsley Council and Berneslai Homes are already ongoing.”