News Shorts & Other Busyness
Re-Fused - The Leccy Cold War
Squall 6, Spring 1994, pg. 35.
In June 1992 the Electricity board changed its policy towards squatters.
Previously squatters could get connected unless the Electricity Board had specific orders to the contrary from the owner. However, this policy was reversed in June ’92 and squatters are now refused connection unless they have authorisation from the owner/landlord. SQUALL contacted London Electricity to find out about this change in policy.
“We do connect squatters who have a licence to be in the property,” said a Mr Kirkwood of Head Office, London WC1..
“But when squatters obtain a licence they cease to be squatters and become licensees. So what, in effect, you are saying is that you do not connect squatters.”
“No, we do connect squatters, but only at licensed squats.”
“Why don’t you connect unlicensed squats?” asked SQUALL.
“We have had a big problem with squatters running up large debts and disappearing after they have been evicted,” replied Mr Kirkwood.
“But isn’t it true that London Electricity’s policy towards squatters has been to fit budget meters?”
“Uh, I don’t know about that.”
Before June 1992 any squatter could be connected to the electricity supply by simply making an application to their local showroom for a budget meter. Operating on a pay-as-you-use system they were specifically brought in by the electricity companies several years ago for people who had difficulties in paying large quarterly bills.
“You must know that, with a budget meter, it is impossible for any consumer to go into debt. When you run out of credit, the meter cuts the supply to the house.”
Mr. Kirkwood refused to comment on the use of budget meters and became fairly icy over further questions put to him. When further pressed as to the reluctance of London Electricity to connect squatters Mr Kirkwood passed the buck down the line:
“It’s up to the discretion of individual area offices and showrooms to decide whether or not to connect squatters,” he evaded but SQUALL pressed on:
“If that is the case, why then was there a change in London Electricity’s Staff Instruction Manual in 1992 advising staff that they were no longer to connect squatters? That sounds like general policy not an acknowledgement to discretion.”
Mr Kirkwood couldn’t answer this question and became unresponsive to further probes. He eventually promised SQUALL documentary information backing up this new policy and reasons for the change in tactics, but none was ever received.
After several calls to the electricity ombudsman and other concerned parties SQUALL discovered that the London Electricity are under no legal obligation to connect anyone. There appears to be little that can be done to fight this blatant discrimination against homeless people. One method that may help squatters avoid criminal proceedings is proof of ‘intention to pay’. If you are refused electricity it is a good idea to send, by registered post (so you have proof of postage), a cheque or postal order for a reasonable amount of money (£20) along with a letter requesting connection. You have then shown an intention to pay for your utilities which will be very valuable should London Electricity take you to court. London Electricity, having accepted your money, will then find it very hard to prosecute (if not impossible).
If anyone has knowledge of any other method or route by which squatters can legitimately obtain electricity please write to SQUALL. Also, if any readers have direct experience of this change in policy, we want to hear from you.