FAMILIES in the North of Scotland are having hundreds of pounds a year added to their electric bills because of a hidden surcharge, it was revealed today.
Households in the Highlands, islands, Moray, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are paying 2p more per unit of power than consumers in other parts of Scotland because of differences in transmission costs across the country.
Power giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) said it wanted to scrap the regional price differences - but was unable to do so because they were set by regulator Ofgem.
It was revealed in June that almost 60 per cent of people aged over 60 in rural parts of Scotland were living in fuel poverty, compared with 45 per cent of over-60s in urban areas.
The attack on the pricing regime was led by the Western Isles Poverty Action Group.
Group chairman councillor Angus McCormack said: “This is a national disgrace.
“A 2p reduction in unit costs would have a significant impact on fuel poverty. A consumer using 15,000 units per year would save £300.
“The poverty action group is calling on the Scottish Government to resolve this iniquity as a matter of urgency.”
George Thomson, the Aberdeen-based chairman of Grampian Senior Citizens Forum, said: “It’s completely unfair to put an extra charge on people because they live in rural areas rather than urban areas.
“Elderly people, obviously, are already struggling to pay their bills. Any additional payment they have got to make is quite outrageous.”
Councillor Alasdair Christie, who is manager of Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), said: “The CAB in Inverness sees very many hundreds of people a year that are struggling to pay for their electricity.
“It does seem unfortunate and unfair that because of a postcode somebody might have, they are paying more.”
A spokesman for SSE said: “Regional pricing affects all energy suppliers and incorporates the additional costs associated with transporting energy to remote areas.
“SSE favours replacing this with one national charge so a customer pays the same price if they live in Benbecula, Bristol or Bradford.
“This is a situation that doesn’t just affect the North of Scotland. The North of Wales and Merseyside are also paying the higher rates that the North of Scotland does.
“We have raised this with the Competition and Markets Authority as one way to simplify customers’ bills.
“We know affordability is customers’ number one concern - that’s why we’ve frozen our standard energy prices to at least January 2016.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was a “scandal” that “there should be any fuel-poverty in a country as energy-rich as Scotland”.
She said: “The Scottish Government is aware that customers in the north of Scotland face some of the highest electricity prices in the country.
“We engage regularly with energy companies on a range of issues and consumer energy bills are frequently discussed.
“We are doing all we can with the powers we currently have to address this issue, providing £79 million funding this year for our home energy efficiency programme that will help people manage their fuel bills better and give them warmer homes.”