A sheltered housing resident has accused Shetland Charitable Trust of perpetuating fuel poverty after a legal challenge lodged against him failed.
Martyn Fisher says the trust’s withdrawal of electricity subsidies for disabled folk has resulted in vulnerable people struggling with major hikes in their heating bills.
It comes after the trust pulled out of a deal it had with Shetland Islands Council to help people in sheltered accommodation afford their electricity.
The subsidy was axed last year as both the council and trust sought to make savings. The trust believed it could save £25,000 by removing the subsidy.
The SIC subsequently contacted affected tenants by letter informing them of the changes and asking them to agree to new lease agreements.
But earlier this year it got fed up waiting on Mr Fisher to sign his name to the terms. The council mounted a legal challenge against the Bigton resident, issuing a writ and warrant for a hearing at Lerwick Sheriff Court.
For his part, Mr Fisher still refused to sign up. He argued the council should have been chasing the charitable trust through the courts for pulling out of the deal it had held with the SIC. Now, following legal arguments, sheriff Philip Mann has ruled against the council’s claims.
In a strongly-written judgment he described the SIC’s application as “incompetent” – a legal term which refers to evidence deemed in violation of legislative rules, or having no bearing on the case.
Mr Fisher said he was “over the moon” after receiving the seven-page ruling from the court. But he warned the trust was responsible for placing people in fuel poverty.
“I’m over the moon,” he said. “I’m on cloud nine. It’s unbelievable. I don’t think the charitable trust is aware that they have put a lot of people into fuel poverty with what they have done here.
“I’ve always said, all along the way, that it is up to the council now to go and take action against the charitable trust over what they have done. It is the charitable trust that has changed the status quo, and it should have been the charitable trust that was in court, and not me.
“They have put quite a lot of people in fuel poverty. I’ve heard that from quite a number of places.”
He said he would be willing to sit down with the trust to help seek an amicable agreement which could help benefit sheltered housing residents.
“I’m quite willing to go down and look for solutions with the charitable trust, and offer to do that. They have just abandoned us, and they should maybe set up a small charity to help people.”
He insisted he would have been left well out of pocket had the sheriff not ruled in his favour.
“It would have practically doubled my electricity bill. It is a major problem,” he said.
Sheriff Philip Mann was able to reach his decision despite only hearing from the council’s legal representative last week – Mr Fisher, who had not managed to arrange legal representation, was ill on the day of the hearing anyway, and was unable to attend court.
Much of the focus centred on a so-called clause 1.6 contained within Mr Fisher’s tenancy agreement. The clause related to a weekly £14.45 service charge which was previously paid by the SIC after receiving the trust subsidy.
But sheriff Mann concluded that – with the subsidy now axed – the authority sought to pass the burden on to Mr Fisher, despite claims from the SIC’s legal representative Keith Adam that the council wanted to decrease the amount payable by Mr Fisher.
In his written judgment sheriff Mann described the council’s claims as “disingenuous” and concluded the application by the SIC was “incompetent”.
“If the applicants truly wished to reduce the charges payable by the respondent they could simply have undertaken to him that they would no longer rely on clause 1.6 of the tenancy agreement. But it is perfectly clear from the terms of the application that that is not what this is all about.
“It is explained in the application that the ‘service charge’ referred to in clause 1.6 of the tenancy agreement equates to the net amount which the tenant is expected to pay for electricity charges paid on his behalf by the applicants [the council] after receipt by them of a subsidy from a charitable trust.
“It is further explained that that subsidy has been withdrawn and the applicants have changed their policy.
“What the applicants seek to achieve is that clause 1.6 will be removed and that henceforth the respondent will pay the full electricity charges direct to the electricity supplier.
“The net result of what the applicants are seeking to do is put the respondent into the position where he will be paying more, not less. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.”
Trust chairman Bobby Hunter declined to comment when contacted by The Shetland Times.
Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.