When Jon Whitefield bought his one-bedroom flat in Croydon, South London, for £220,000 four years ago, he knew it urgently needed updating.
Like many first-time buyers scraping on to the housing ladder, he had to buy a ‘doer-upper’ — and the flat had no boiler or central heating system.
So the 37-year-old construction worker spent the next six months and £15,000 of his savings putting in a new kitchen, bathroom and flooring, and having the walls painted and tiled. He also installed a new gas boiler at a cost of £3,000.
Anxious times: Jon Whitefield has been told the gas supply to his one-bedroom flat in Croydon, might be cut off due to damaged pipework
All told, Jon, who is single, ended up spending most of the savings pot he had built up since he was 16 on the renovations. But now he faces having to rip out almost all of it — and start again.
For in a letter seen by Money Mail and sent to all 35 residents in Jon’s block of flats, the company that pipes gas into the building has threatened to cut off the supply entirely.
The firm, SGN, doesn’t think it is worth replacing one of the damaged pipes supplying the 1970s block because so few of Jon’s fellow residents use gas.
Just three in ten of the flats use gas, with the rest relying solely on electric power for heating and cooking.
SGN says replacing the damaged pipe and necessary upgrades to others showing wear and tear would cost £60,000.
Yet shutting off the gas entirely will render Jon’s boiler useless and mean his radiators, pipes and gas oven all need replacing.
Even though his costs will run into many thousands of pounds, SGN has offered him just £500 — a sum Jon describes as ‘insulting’.
‘I spent a long time bringing the property together the way I wanted it,’ he says, ‘and I was looking forward to enjoying the fruits of my labour.
‘I don’t think they understand just how much work it will be for me to move to electric. I refuse to accept what SGN is doing.’
SGN has asked Jon to send two quotes for boiler replacement and installation fees, which it will ‘review’. But consumer experts say SGN may be able to cut him off without his consent if it deems the gas supply unsafe.
Under net zero targets, by 2025 no new-build homes will have gas boilers installed. Instead, they will have eco-friendly devices such as heat pumps or electrically powered boilers
His story may offer an alarming glimpse into the future as households in Britain are steered away from gas boilers in order to reduce carbon emissions.
Under net zero targets, by 2025 no new-build homes will have gas boilers installed. Instead, they will have eco-friendly devices such as heat pumps or electrically powered boilers.
The Government is encouraging all households to switch to more eco-friendly options if they can.
SGN says it has run ‘buyout schemes’ to remove gas from 74 buildings in the past two years. A buyout scheme is where residents are offered money in exchange for the gas supply being switched off.
The distributor first wrote to residents in Jon’s building to discuss the proposal in August.
The letter read: ‘It has been identified that the gas pipes supplying your block of flats need to be replaced.
However, we have found there are a limited number of residents in the building using gas.
Because of this and to avoid the disruption that replacement work would cause for all residents, we request your agreement to permanently isolate the gas supplies.’
Green energy: Households in Britain are steered away from gas boilers in order to reduce carbon emissions
SGN says the building’s owners had raised concerns about how the property would look if the necessary renovations went ahead to keep it connected to gas supply.
The work would require external pipework to be fitted.
Jon, who owns the flat as a leaseholder, says: ‘I have one neighbour who I’ve been chatting to about this and he is also refusing to let it happen. SGN haven’t explained themselves or made anything clear. It is callous.’
Jon has ignored the letter, as he has no interest in giving SGN permission to go ahead.
SGN insists that its buyout process involves getting written agreement from the building owner, leaseholders and customers. Without this consent, it will not go ahead. It sent out another letter this month.
Bradley Barlow, a spokesman for SGN, says: ‘Our buyout process is a proposal to disconnect the gas supply and involves providing the option to all residents to permanently isolate their gas supply, providing compensation to switch their gas appliances to electric and cover the work required for the conversion.
‘£500 is offered to all customers but we are able to increase this amount if the cost of conversion is higher, subject to evidence being provided to show the reason for the additional cost.’
That will leave Jon with a battle to obtain what he believes to be the right level of compensation.
SGN adds that it could push ahead with the buyout if it finds it is the only safe, compliant option.
Consumer champion Martyn James says: ‘Ultimately, the gas distributor is contracted by the property management company, so the residents might have no choice.
He says if you find yourself in this situation, the first thing to do would be to arrange a residents’ meeting and discuss the issue with others in the building.
‘From there, it might be worth lodging a complaint,’ he adds.