Cost-of-living crisis: Energy price measures need to go further to protect vulnerable, charities warn

The lack of an energy price cap for households across Scotland who use alternative heating sources is “deeply concerning” and leaves vulnerable consumers uncertain about what financial assistance they can expect to help with soaring energy bills, a leading fuel poverty charity has warned.

Energy Action Scotland said those households who use oil, LPG or solid fuel for heating already faced financial burdens, given they have to pay their energy costs upfront.

Prime Minister Liz Truss announced on Thursday that gas and electricity customers will see their energy bills frozen at an average of £2,500 a year for the next two years from October 1 under what her Government describes as an “energy price guarantee”.

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She told the Commons that a separate fund would be set up to help those people who are not covered by a cap. But Frazer Scott, chief executive of Energy Action Scotland, said there was a need for more detail.

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“It is deeply concerning that there is no equivalent cap being introduced for oil, LPG or solid fuel as these are currently unregulated,” he said. “The oil and LPG industries have a voluntary code, but as they are not regulated by Government like gas or electricity, therefore households who rely on them for heating are not afforded the same legal protections.

“The announcement did not contain any detail on the quantum of this support package, what it will look like, either per household or nationally, nor the total.

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“With no overall value it is difficult to say what this package should look like for vulnerable households, but the Government should be achieving the equivalent support metrics as it has to price capped households, which means that households need this money right now.”

According to the latest Scottish House Condition Survey, around 129,000 households – about 5 per cent of the nation’s housing stock – use oil as their primary heating fuel. Those properties are mainly based in remote and rural areas. A further 18,000 households – around 1 per cent – use bulk or bottled LPG.

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Prime Minister Liz Truss has unveiled plans to freeze sky-high domestic energy bills for two years, but there are warnings that the measures do not go far enough. Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty

Figures collated by the website Boiler Juice show as of September 6, the price for a litre of kerosene stood at 101.83 pence. On the same day in September last year, it was just 45.57 pence a litre. LPG prices, meanwhile, stand at around 87 pence a litre – the highest level in nearly a decade.

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Anti-poverty campaigners in Scotland have also stressed the UK Government must go further to help the poorest in society.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, told Scotland on Sunday: “The first moral duty of government is to protect people. It’s becoming more and more clear that the UK Government needs to do much more to support people on the lowest incomes.

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John Dickie warned that families were already being forced to make "impossible choices." Picture: CPAG
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“Even with the support announced this week, people on prepayment meters will have to find around £264 in January alone for their basic energy needs. But people under 25 get just £265 a month in Universal Credit.

“These figures highlight the absolute injustice of these price hikes, and the repeated cuts to our social security that have left so many trapped in poverty.”

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He added: “It cannot be clearer – more people will die this winter because of unpayable bills. Justice and compassion demand that the new Prime Minister does everything in her power to prevent that happening.”

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, also pointed out energy costs would still be significantly higher than last winter, with inflation adding to spending pressures and leaving the poorest families with “nothing left to cut back on”.

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He said: “The capping of energy prices will be welcomed by families across the country, but the harsh reality is that our poorest families will still face increased energy bills on top of massive hikes in the price of food and other basics.

"Parents are already making impossible choices between putting food on the table, feeding the meter, or getting into debt, and rising prices across the board are posing a real threat to children’s wellbeing.

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“It is vital that the new UK Government now also uses the social security system to get cash to low-income families where parents are in low-paid jobs or can’t work, whether that’s due to ill health, disability or caring responsibilities.”

Mr Dickie added: “The new Prime Minister needs to act fast to increase benefits to match inflation, and at the same time remove the benefit cap and two child limit that are arbitrarily leaving many children without the financial support they so desperately need.”

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While Ms Truss also announced an initial six-month support package for businesses, Colin Borland, director of devolved nations at the Federation of Small Businesses, said clarity was urgently needed.

“The need for action on bills is particularly pressing in Scotland, where our colder, darker climes mean that small businesses are even more likely to have energy costs as a major component of their overheads,” he said. “While we’re clearly moving in the right direction, we do need some clarity as to what these proposals will actually mean for small business customers.

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“What will be done for the businesses who, faced with prices spiralling to three or four times their current level, signed a new fixed term contract at a sky-high rate this time a week ago?

“Will 12-month contracts provide relief for the first six of those months and then charge the remainder at exorbitant rates? What will the mechanics of rolling this cap out look like and, crucially, at what rate will the cap be set?”

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