Fuel poverty begins to bite

Tenants are suffering because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Tenants are suffering because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THOUSANDS of council ­tenants are sliding into fuel poverty with almost 40 per cent finding it harder to heat their homes.

The shock figure was published in a survey of city residents, suggesting around 8,000 families are struggling to pay their energy bills.

Of those facing difficulties, 67 per cent said it had become harder to meet their fuel costs.

Calls have now been made for city chiefs to do more to help lift families out of fuel poverty – with energy prices at the six main providers increasing from six to 10 per cent in the last year – with further rises likely.

Cllr Steve Burgess, housing spokesman for Edinburgh Greens, said the council was “legally obliged” to help people out of fuel poverty and urged that energy advisors speak directly with individual tenants to help them reduce their bills.

The survey, commissioned by the city, showed that 44 per cent of respondents were paying for their gas or electricity through the more expensive pre-payment meters while 98 per cent had never contacted any agency for energy advice.

Elizabeth Gore, deputy director of Energy Action Scotland – a charity that campaigns to end fuel poverty – said residents should consider switching tariffs to suit their needs or apply for a housing insulation scheme to help reduce bills. She said: “The number of people in fuel poverty across the UK has been going up over the last few years and that is largely attributed to the rise in domestic energy prices.

“Three main causes are recognised. The price of energy needed, household income and how energy efficient homes are.

“Peoples’ incomes have been hit because of the economy and austerity measures and the new benefits changes means that is likely to get worse.” A spokesman for Energy UK said: “We know that people will be worried about a whole range of household bills.

“Anyone in rented accommodation worried about their energy bill should contact their supplier and see what options are open to them.

“Switching to paying by direct debit may not only reduce costs, but also help spread payments evenly throughout the year and avoid larger bills through the winter months.

“Tenants can normally change tariff and supplier too, which may help them find a tariff more suited to them, although they should always check with their landlord before doing this.”

Housing leader councillor Cammy Day said: “I think these figures show we need to do a lot more work. It’s concerning but that is why we are building modern new homes and upgrading all our properties to Scottish quality standards to make them more efficient. We can‘t put money in people’s pockets but we can help make homes affordable and easier to heat. It’s important we invest money now into energy efficiency.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com