This year, the Russian government has announced good news that housing and utilities rates will not be raised in January. However, as it turns out, the Republic of Bashkortostan did not know anything about it. At least, the cost of heating services has increased by 1.5-2 times in the bills that residents of its capital Ufa received.
Outraged people began to file complaints and take to the streets. In response, the prosecutor's office promised to check the validity of the fees. Radiy Khabirov, the head of Bashkortostan, took the issue under his personal control. Meanwhile, the representatives of BashRTS, the company that provides heating in eight cities in Bashkortostan, say that the calculation was done correctly. According to them, several factors had an impact on the charges for utility services.
Why have utility prices gone up?
First of all, the increase in payments stems from a new algorithm of calculating the cost of heating services. If earlier the total sum was divided into 12 months and was paid in equal parts irrespective of a season, but now it will be necessary to pay bills only during a cold season which lasts 8 months. Therefore, the monthly payment has also increased.
The freezing weather in December was another reason that affected the heating costs. According to meteorologists, the temperature at the end of 2020 was 10°C below the same period in the previous year. Due to this factor, the company had to increase the payment and bare additional expenses to maintain the desired temperature in residential houses.
The deterioration of heating networks and equipment became the third important issue. More often than not, heat was simply “lost” on the way to consumers. Dilapidated pipelines heat the street but not people’s flats. Some residents of Ufa are even going to sue BashRTS for improperly provided services. People say that the barely warm radiators and a temperature of +16°C in their flats cannot be considered satisfactory.
At the same time, another part of the city residents complain about the so-called "overheating." There is no air to breathe in their houses, and the windows have to be opened. People are outraged at the fact that they are actually forced to overpay for extra heating which they do not need. Bashkortostan's housing and utilities ministry is going to carry out inspections on all these appeals and to penalize those responsible. But so far, according to Anna Goryukhina, the head of the press service of the Ufa Utility Networks, only three dozens of complaints have been registered.
How are the authorities solving this issue?
In order to solve the issue, the authorities of Bashkortostan have created a work group. It is supposed to control the process of taking an inventory of buildings. Along with that, it will check whether or not heat is being delivered correctly and whether the meter readings are being taken properly. After all, the inflated figures in the bills might be due not only to the actual overconsumption of electricity but also due to errors and sometimes outright cheating in the meter readings. In particular, it is not an isolated event when tenants to have to pay for commercial premises or store rooms in the building.
However, there is one peculiarity. The deputies themselves point out that this is not the first time a work group of this kind has been appointed but the issue remains unresolved. Opening the meeting, Nikolay Khoroshilov, the chairman of the Kurultai (regional legislature) Committee for Housing Policy and Infrastructure Development, said that in February 2020, Ufa residents also complained about a significant increase in heating bills. "We put out that fire,” Khoroshilov said.
“Apparently, we haven’t developed any conclusion from last year. It is depressing that we have to restart the activities of our work group."
Will housing and utilities rates still be raised?
Meanwhile, in July 2021, as other constituent regions of Russia, Bashkortostan faces another increase in utility rates. The exact amount of the increase is not yet known. But the rules say that it should not exceed the annual inflation rate. Preliminary data suggests that the increase will be about 3%.
The local authorities have promised to review the amount of investment in the overhaul and development of heating networks. If the costs are reduced, the cost load per each resident of Bashkortostan will also go down. However, Marat Shangareyev, the head of BashRTS, warned Ufa's residents in advance that they were unlikely to pay less. This move will only help keep the prices in check in 2022.
At the same time, the officials' explanations do not satisfy people. Arsen Nuridzhanov, the chairman of the Bashdomkom Union of House Committees, believes that the words about the transition of payments for heating from the 1/12 to the 1/8 formula are little more than excuses. "We have been living like this for two years,” Nuridzhanov said. “This is an attempt by the resource companies not to tell the real reasons. After all, the heating rates in the republic were raised several years ago. We, customers who pay them, still do not know how they were calculated."
Bashkortostan residents’ reaction
It didn't take long for Bashkortostan residents to give a feedback to what was happening. On January 18, outraged people came to the Republic House [the headquarters of the Government of the Republic of Bashkortostan] demanding a meeting with Radiy Khabirov, the head of Bashkortostan. People waved the bills with new payments and asked for explanations. Khabirov did not come out to them. The attempt to hold negotiations were made by the officials who were responsible for the issue. Namely, Ural Kilsenbayev, the deputy head of Khabirov’s administration, and Boris Belyaev, the minister of housing and utilities. However, their explanations did not satisfy the protesters. People promised to take to the streets again but next time to speak with Khabirov.
According to the officials, all of the charges were made correctly. Those who are unable to pay the new rates were recommended to simply pay by installments. Immediately after the meeting, Albert Rakhmatullin, an activist of the StopBashRTS movement, who was the main initiator of the rally, was detained for ten days by law enforcement officials. Rakhmatullin said he would appeal his arrest. He added that those who were outraged by the new charges were going to hold a protest action in Ufa on January 31. However, they were denied official permission under the pretext of the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The main issue is not whether these calculations and charges are correct,” says Bagdat Nigmatzyanov, another protester, “but that they are completely unaffordable for the majority of Ufa residents. In addition, the cost of heating services in a flat cannot be four to five times higher than the cost of the same service in a detached home.”
It seems that a warm winter is the only way to tackle this issue. In that case, chances are they will not have to pay more. However, apparently, they are not lucky in terms of weather either. Therefore, despite all the protests and the officials’ promises to take the situation under control people are likely to have to pay the bills in full.
* Bashkort is recognized as an extremist organization that is banned in Russia by the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan of 16.09.2020