Charity ALIenergy fear Scotland braced for ‘worst ever’ winter fuel poverty crisis

Shaun Milne meets the team at a sustainable energy charity ahead of what they anticipate to be the worst ever period for fuel poverty, and discusses how smart meters can help people cope

Since smart meters automatically send readings to your energy supplier, installing one means no more estimated bills as you will only be charged for power actually used

There’s no drama, no edge, no agenda in the words of Lynda Mitchell as she speaks. Just a blunt, sobering matter-of-fact voice relaying the reality of life on the edge for so many facing the spectre of fuel poverty in the days and weeks ahead.

“This is going to be a very difficult winter for people,” she says from the offices of ALIenergy (Argyll, Lomond & the Islands Energy Agency), in the sustainable energy charity for the area’s offices in Oban.

“We’ve got the end of furlough,” she continues, “We’ve got the crisis in energy prices, the cost of living and food prices have gone up, the reduction in Universal Credit, and the cold weather ahead.

“I would imagine that October, November, December – this winter – is going to be worse than any that we have had before.”

Lynda is manager of a small, dedicated team tasked with offering vital support, such as educating people on how to lower their energy use, for around 100,000 local homes across perhaps the UK’s most disparate lands and islands.

There is an obvious sense of foreboding of what may soon come. She simply states: “We expect to be extremely busy.”

Deputy manager at the charity Rachel McNicol says: “People still do leave TVs, games consoles, cookers, everything on standby. It might not seem like that will use a lot of energy, but if you count that up then it does.”

For those who would like to take control of their energy bills and have visibility over their spend, a smart meter installation can help.

This is because smart meters come with an in-home display that gives you near-real time information on your energy usage, letting you keep a watchful eye on your levels of consumption and helping you to decide when and where you can reduce it.

For example, you may realise that leaving your computer on standby consumes more energy than you had thought, and get into the habit of turning it off completely when it’s not in use.

Smart meters also help you with the accuracy of your bills. As they automatically submit your meter readings, you will only be billed for the energy you actually use. This means no more estimated bills, and no more needing to remember to read the meter.

Rachel says: “We’ve had reports where people who love their smart meters are telling us how much they are saving.”

In areas of rural Scotland, fuel poverty is as high as 40 per cent, according to data from the Scottish Government’s Scottish House Condition Survey, conducted in 2019.

“People can be paying too much and be really struggling,” Rachel explains. “Or they could be not paying enough, and they get a big bill that they just can’t afford.

“People at the beginning of the pandemic maybe had a bit of savings behind them to see them through last winter, but things haven’t improved drastically enough for them to build their reserves back up,” she adds.

“They are finding themselves in a situation that they have never found themselves in before, having to ask for help or ration their heat.”

Smart meters also have benefits for those on prepay methods of payment. Smart meters in prepay mode can make it easier for customers to top up – instead of having to take time out of your day to go to the shop whenever you are low, you can top up via mobile or online instead. They can also alert you when you are close to running out or straying into emergency credit.

Smart meters are available at no extra cost from your energy supplier, and installation only takes a few hours.

If you are worried about your energy bills, advice and support is available from various groups, including Energy Action Scotland , Citizens Advice, or in the Argyll and Bute, and Lochaber area from ALIenergy. Home Energy Scotland also has lots of information on ways you can cut down on bills.

Join the energy revolution and contact your energy supplier to request a smart meter. For more information visit smartenergygb.org