COUNCILLORS who sit on the board of River Clyde Homes have defended a 'bombshell' decision to hit poorest tenants hardest with a huge 112 per cent hike in their heating bills.

The Telegraph told last month how Inverclyde's largest housing provider had given Broomhill residents just a few weeks' notice of the massive increase in charges for using its biomass district heating system.

Now councillors Chris Curley and Graeme Brooks - members of the decision-making RCH board - have declared that phasing in the 'unavoidable' rises would not have been feasible.

SNP man Councillor Curley said: "This was a difficult decision. It was the first increase in the fuel costs since the biomass system was installed in 2016, and the new pricing structure remains lower than the current national energy price cap.

"This helps mitigate the impact on residents, particularly those on lower incomes, although any increase in the current pricing will have an impact on individual households.

“Phasing of the cost increase has been suggested. However, to be of significance this phasing would need to be over several years and would still mean substantial costs being accommodated by RCH - with the costs borne by the rest of the tenants and other customers through rents and charges.”

Councillor Brooks, Conservative, said: "I and other board members are obligated to ensure reliable, affordable energy remains available to all our district heating customers.

"I understand the problem that any increase in energy costs places on customers, and the decision to raise charges is never an easy one to make.

"However, it was agreed that these necessary changes are unavoidable in the face of ongoing increases in running costs."

People living in the high rise flats in Broomhill - which is within the poorest council ward in Scotland - spoke to the Tele about counting the cost of the increase.

Greenock Telegraph:

Pat Wallace, 65, who lives with his wife Linda in Whinhill Court and has serious health conditions, said: "This biomass system has been a disaster since it was put in. We warned them at the time and we were told it was fine.

"But it was always breaking down.

"We were in shock when the bombshell letter came in, telling us what they were going to do.

"We had a meeting with River Clyde Homes but it made no difference whatsoever. They were just reading from a script.

"We have no other choice but to use this system. We can just about afford our heating bills but will need to find more money or turn it down."

RCH sent out letters after making the decision to increase the cost of the biomass heating system from 7p per kilowatt hour to 18p.

Mr Wallace said: "River Clyde Homes are also increasing the standing charge, it is outrageous. They need to be held to account."

His neighbour Ann Larkin, 81, said: "I was in tears when I realised what was going on. I do everything I can right now to keep the cost of heating down. I put a blanket round me to keep me warm. I might need to sit with my coat on as well.

"I put what I can into my heating. I don't want to get in debt, I have never been in debt"

Councillor Colin Jackson previously warned that many people living in Broomhill are on the lowest incomes.

A River Clyde Homes spokesperson said: "We have shielded our customers from increased energy costs since district heating systems were installed in 2016, but recent rises in energy prices makes this increase unavoidable.

"We have made considerable efforts to maintain our district heating at a price that remains affordable, and the revised charging basis remains highly favourable.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and River Clyde Homes recognises the potential challenges for some residents.

"Our dedicated financial wellbeing team is here to support anyone struggling with payments, by calling 0800 013 2196 for assistance. "