‘One in three’ Scots households struggle with heating bills

The number of Scots households living in fuel poverty has fallen year-on-year, but the Scottish Government admits there is 'more work to do'. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
The number of Scots households living in fuel poverty has fallen year-on-year, but the Scottish Government admits there is 'more work to do'. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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Almost one in three Scottish households struggled to heat their homes in 2015, despite the overall number of those in fuel poverty falling year-on-year due to lower prices.

Around 748,000 - or 30.7 per cent - of households were classed as fuel poor last year - defined as any that spend 10 per cent or more of their income on heating bills.

Of that number, 8.7 per cent were living in “extreme fuel poverty”.

The figures were revealed in the annual Scottish House Condition Survey, published on Wednesday, and prompted campaigners to call for “a radical transformation in Scotland’s ageing and inefficient housing stock”.

While the number of households in fuel poverty has fallen by 97,000 since 2014, around half of that reduction is down to lower fuel costs. Another third can be attributed to energy efficiency improvements made in homes, with the rest explained by higher incomes.

Keith Robson of Age Scotland said: “Falling levels of fuel poverty are always welcome, but there’s a sting in the tail in these figures.

“The reductions come after years of increases – fuel poverty rates are now no better than they were eight years ago, and remain over 80 per cent worse than twelve years ago when winter fuel payments were introduced.

“They’re also precarious, because they’re largely due to falling energy prices. These are mostly unpredictable, so the gains in affordability of heating made this year could just as easily be lost if bills start rising again.”

Households using oil as the primary heating fuel have seen most improvement in fuel poverty levels in the last year, in large part due to falling prices.

Rural households have gained disproportionately in the last year with fuel poverty levels falling to 35 per cent - the urban level is 30 per cent.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “The figures indicate almost 100,000 fewer households were in fuel poverty in 2015 compared to the previous year. While this is obviously welcome news we know there is much more work to be done.

“Around half of this reduction can be attributed to the lower price of domestic fuels during that time which is why we have continually called for the UK Government to do more in response to high energy prices.

“We are convening a meeting with utility companies next week to challenge them to help low income consumers get a better deal on their fuel bills. Energy companies are among our key part of the Scottish Government aim of a fairer Scotland, making sure this aspect of the poverty premium is properly tackled.”

The Scottish Government last month published working group reports by two fuel poverty task forces, containing more than 100 recommendations.

The Government’s full response will be published in the new year, but it has already taken forward a recommendation on reviewing the definition of fuel poverty, and established the expert independent review called for.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said when the party was in power at Holyrood it had set an ambitious target to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016.

Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour deputy leader, said: “Last month Labour won a vote in the Scottish Parliament to re-set the target for addressing fuel poverty. The SNP government should now bring forward a clear plan and time frame for when we end fuel poverty in Scotland for good.”