INVERCLYDE'S largest housing provider is hitting its poorest and most vulnerable tenants with a whopping 112 per cent HIKE in their heating bills - just as the district is plunged into sub-zero winter temperatures.

Greenock Telegraph: Margaret TrotterMargaret Trotter (Image: George Munro)

River Clyde Homes' residents living in Greenock's Broomhill - the poorest area in Scotland - are reeling today after receiving bombshell letters informing them of the massive rises in their biomass district heating system costs.

Greenock Telegraph: Broomhill

Pensioners in their 80s, as well as disabled people and others on fixed incomes, are facing having to find up to an extra £82 a month just to keep warm, as an arctic blast grips the town.

Campaigning councillor Colin Jackson has slammed the rises as 'unacceptable' and warned that people are facing the prospect of having to turn their heating off.

Councillor Jackson, who was contacted by numerous alarmed residents, said: "Many of those affected are elderly or on benefits, a fixed income, and they are already struggling with the current cost of living crisis.

"My worry is that there has been no real thought given [by RCH] as to how this will affect their household budgets."

As temperatures plummeted across Inverclyde, the Telegraph spoke to some of the residents about the 'devastating impact' of the hike.

Broomhill Court tenant Margaret Trotter, 88, said: "I have been managing fine up until now, but that is a lot of money. No-one will be able to afford that.

"Everyone is talking about it and we are all really worried. Bills are going up all the time. I live on my own and I only have a pension."

We found widespread concern among residents at Whinhill Court, which is home to exclusively elderly and disabled people.

Stuart Young, 62, who suffers from major heart problems, described the price hike as 'outrageous'.

He said: "They have just more than doubled our heating overnight with no warning.

"River Clyde Homes said they have been absorbing the increases up until now, but then they just hit us with rises likes this.

"They are increasing our charges from 7p per kilowatt hour to 18p - that is 112 per cent. Who can afford that?"

Greenock Telegraph: Broomhill

Fellow Whinhill Court resident Sonia Hooper, 55, said: "I have mental health problems and I am disabled. I have osteoporosis and I have to keep warm.

"Up until now the heating has been affordable. When the government gave out grants I put it all into my top-up card.

"It's terrible, there is no way I could afford to pay now. It is very scary that they would ask for that amount."

The biomass district heating system covers all three high-rise blocks, as well as nearby areas including Ann Street.

Councillor Colin Jackson held face-to-face talks with RCH, along with fellow ward councillor Michael McCormick, about the huge increases.

Greenock Telegraph: Broomhill

Councillor Jackson said: "In reality Cartsdyke tenants currently paying £70 per month will see their heating bill rise by £42 per month, while those in Broomhill paying £70 will see their bills rise by £82 a month.

"Many simply don’t have the money to cover such a substantial rise and we are really concerned that this will leave them with no option but to turn off their heating or to go without the basics, just to make ends meet."

At the talks the councillors were told that there would be drop-in sessions run by RCH in their area, with vouchers made available to those worst affected and advice on applying for financial support.

But Councillor Jackson, who says the rises should have been phased in, said: "This is a sticking plaster approach that will only help in the very short term.

"We understand that RCH itself has costs to cover, but passing these financial pressures on to those who can least afford it will have a serious impact for those already living on the breadline."

An RCH spokesperson said: "River Clyde Homes have made considerable efforts to ensure that its district heating customers can access energy at an affordable price.

"The district heating systems at Broomhill and Cartsdyke apartments were installed in 2016 and since then the charges have remained unchanged, and our customers have been shielded from the increased energy costs experienced nationally.

"Although biomass heating remains one of the most affordable options for district heating, the associated running costs have significantly increased over the last two years, driven primarily by increases in biomass fuel costs.

"Due to the sustained rise in running costs, we are no longer able to provide energy at the low historical rates provided to date. Consequently, there will be an unavoidable increase in energy charges from February 5.

"This was a very difficult decision for RCH to make and we understand that these increases will be unwelcome, however, we are unable to continue to provide the historical levels of subsidy.

"The revised charging basis still remains highly favourable compared to the electricity price cap of 28.62p per kilowatt hour.

"Our dedicated financial wellbeing team is available to support residents struggling to make payments by calling 0800 013 2196."