The Scottish Government has unveiled plans to redefine fuel poverty in a bid to help those most in need - just a week before missing the deadline of its own target to eradicate the problem.
The move is one of over 100 recommendations made in two reports by The Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, to address the issue, which affects around a third of households north of the border and has “significantly worsened” in recent years, according to the report.
The reports also urged the Scottish Government to review the delivery of the Winter Fuel Payment and consider targeting it towards vulnerable pensioners in a bid to reduce costs.
Di Alexander, the chairman of the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, told The Scotsman that interim targets need to be set to constantly review a “community approach” to tackling fuel poverty, which he said should see teams of people on the ground to personally help people living in fuel poverty, especially in rural areas, to take steps to improve the situation.
Mr Alexander said: “What we need is a timetable with milestones so that the new strategy can be judged and strategised to make sure it is working and if it isn’t working, take steps to adjust it.”
A deadline of November 2016 to “so far as is reasonably practicable” ensure that nobody is living in fuel poverty in Scotland was set by the previous Labour-led Scottish Government. Fuel poverty is currently defined as where a household has to spend more than 10 per cent of its income, including benefits, in order to maintain a “satisfactory heating regime”.
Consumer groups are now pushing for a new timetable to be set out to stamp out fuel poverty, particularly in rural areas, where it is believed up to 50 per cent of households are affected.
Other measures sugested include greater support for off-gas areas and supporting consumers to switch tariff and supplier.
Norman Kerr, director of Energy Action Scotland said: “There is a wealth of information in the two reports which Ministers must now consider in order to review the fuel poverty strategy for Scotland. Having recently set out its proposals to eradicate child poverty in Scotland by a set date, the Scottish Government now must do the same for resetting the almost expired fuel poverty eradication target date and set it in statute.”
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland: “Missing our current fuel poverty targets by such a margin is evidence that the current approach from the Scottish Government to tackling this issue is simply not enough to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland.
Craig Salter, energy spokesman at Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “The report of the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Taskforce is a significant step forward in tackling fuel poverty in rural Scotland.”
Scottish Labour Housing and Social Justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said the target had been “missed by a mile”.
The recommendations will now be considered in full by ministers.