More than half of Scots in fuel poverty, survey suggests

Ben Wray

Three-quarters of Scots worry about the cost of energy bills

  • 52 per cent of survey respondents said they paid over 10 per cent of their income on energy bills, the definition of fuel poverty
  • One in ten paid 25 per cent of their income on energy bills
  • Energy prices rose in 2018, on average by £1,101 per household in the UK
  • 83 per cent of respondents with pre-pay meters said they had fell into emergency credit, which attracts standing charges

A SURVEY has suggested more than half of households in Scotland are now in fuel poverty, after a year of rising energy prices. 

The Hillcrest Housing Association survey – which was conducted across all tenures not just social housing – found that 52 per cent of respondents were in fuel poverty, while one in ten were paying over 25 per cent of their income on energy bills. 

Three quarters admitted they worry about the cost of energy bills while 35 per cent said worries about Bills led to physical and/or mental health problems.

Fuel poverty is defined by households spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy bills.

READ MORE: Scottish Government’s Bill on fuel poverty is a ‘missed opportunity’, energy poverty expert says

One anonymous respondent said: “Worrying about bills causes me mental stress, especially because condensation in my home is affecting my children’s health.”

Another respondent said: “I am extremely stressed and worried about how to pay my energy bills. As a cancer survivor with multiple health needs, keeping warm is essential and I struggle to pay bills even using the absolute minimum energy I can.”

2018 was the worst year ever for the number of energy price rises in the UK. 

Scottish Power’s total increase in 2018 was 9.4 per cent, or £109 extra per year, the highest of any of the big six UK energy firms. The average increase last year was 7.4 per cent, a £74 increase, increasing annual energy bills per household by £1,101.

Eighty-three per cent of households with pre-pay meters – where the heating is cut off if the meter is not topped up – have went into emergency credit, which leads to a standing charge applied by the energy supplier. Twelve per cent of households were permanently in emergency credit. 

READ MORE: Risk that public energy company could be ‘like all energy suppliers with a Scot Govt logo’, experts warn

Euan Hird, Hillcrest Energy Advice Team (HEAT), a dedicated support service established in 2013, said: “With energy bills continually getting steeper, we’re seeing more households falling into fuel poverty. For many this can result in additional stress and struggle when it comes to paying the bills, but for some it can be as serious as having to choose between eating or heating.

“In current-day Scotland, it’s unacceptable that some households are being forced to make this decision. With our survey revealing the extent of homes gripped by fuel poverty, the lengths people are going to in order to try and keep warm and the number of health issues that are being caused, it presents a very concerning picture.

“With 50 per cent of the respondents of the survey being homeowners, and almost 20 per cent being private rent tenants, it shows that the issues are not limited to housing association or council tenants.

“However, the Warm Home Discount is a valuable lifeline that many may not even realise they can tap into. It’s a government scheme that gives extra help to people struggling with their energy bills. The survey showed that 85 per cent haven’t applied for this yet, so raising awareness of this discount is very important.”

CommonSpace contacted the Scottish Government for comment but they had not responded by time of publication. 

READ MORE: Scottish ethical energy supplier launches UK-wide effort to tackle fuel poverty

The Scottish Government introduced a draft fuel poverty bill, known as the Warmer Homes Bill, in June last year. Under the target set out in the bill, no more than five per cent of Scottish households should be living in fuel poverty by 2040. 

The bill would also create a new definition of fuel poverty, which would class a household as ‘fuel poor’ if its required fuel costs are more than 10 per cent of the household’s income after other housing costs have been paid, provided the remaining income is insufficient for maintaining an acceptable standard of living.

The new bill will also require ministers to publish a fuel poverty strategy, and to provide a progress report every five years.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Citizens Advice Scotland criticised the Bill for being insufficiently ambitious.

The Scottish Government had previously had a target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2020. 

Picture courtest of CJS*64

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