RESIDENTS of a sheltered housing scheme in Swindon are facing destitution after being hit with dramatic rent and energy bill increases. 

People living at Windmill Court, Freshbrook, were recently given a breakdown of increases they were expected to pay scheme management Stonewater that will see their monthly bill increase by £500. 

Many say this is an increase that they cannot afford and some even say they will be made homeless if Stonewater doesn't reconsider the increase. 

The increases have also been condemned by local MP Sir Robert Buckland, and Labour MP hopeful Heidi Alexander, as well as local councillor Sean Wilson, whose own dad Ronnie lives there. 

Last year, residents paid £5.40 a week for individual electricity and £15.47 for communal electricity as part of their rent which has risen to £30.62 and £87.63 respectively.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: People living at Windmill Court in Swindon are facing destitution and homelessness because of a sharp rise in rent and service charges.People living at Windmill Court in Swindon are facing destitution and homelessness because of a sharp rise in rent and service charges. (Image: Dave Cox)

One of them, Rebekkah Cavendish, now faces a total monthly payment of roughly £1,300 for a one-bedroom flat. 

"There are no facilities like a sauna or a penthouse, or a swimming pool, it's just a standard one-bedroom flat that's been there since 1989 and really needs renovating," she said. 

Rebekkah is formerly homeless, only managing to find herself a safe place to live at Windmill Court just over a year ago. She is also disabled and suffers from epilepsy.

But she says this is a payment she won't be able to afford, so she will be forced to return to being homeless.

"I can’t afford to eat, not even talking about luxuries," she said. "Since finding out about the increase I've had two epileptic fits which I'm sure have been caused by the stress.

"But it's not just me, others are using their pensions, their savings to try and keep their homes.

"These people are retired, elderly, some are disabled, where are they supposed to get the money from?"

Rebekkah and other residents have fought back against the increase by refusing to pay it and only paying what they were expected to pay before, and others have cancelled their direct debits in a form of rent striking.

In response, a spokesperson for Stonewater said: "We absolutely stand with customers over these concerns."

But they added: "The parameters for social housing rents are set by the government and supported housing is excluded from the 7% cap applied to other tenures.

"We do not make a penny of profit from service or energy charges and are committed to ensuring that no customer should ever be at risk of losing their home because of energy debt. We will always support anyone struggling to find workable solutions.”

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Windmill Court, Freshbrook, SwindonWindmill Court, Freshbrook, Swindon (Image: Dave Cox)

Residents have also held meetings with representatives from Stonewater and local councillors and MPs to try and reverse course, with both Labour MP hopeful Heidi Alexander and South Swindon MP Robert Buckland condemning the rises. 

Mr Buckland told the BBC he was "astonished" about the situation and was going to meet with Stonewater's chef executive next week to ask for a better solution. 

Ms Alexander criticised Stonewater for choosing to pass on the increased energy costs to their tenants.

But she also highlighted the problem that tenants were excluded from the energy price cap scheme because they were classed as independent living as a Conservative policy failure. 

"Many Windmill Court residents are solely dependent upon their state pensions for income and so they simply don’t have the money in their bank accounts to be paying out an extra £100 a week," she added. 

Ward councillor for Lydiard and Freshbrook, Sean Wilson, has worked closely with the Windmill Court residents.

"At a time when retired people are facing money problems caused the service charge hike by Stonewater is scandalous," he said. 

"Residents will face real hardship if the increases go ahead".