The Scottish Government scheme, which will be administered by consumer advice service Advice Direct Scotland, is designed to prevent households falling into fuel poverty.
Targeted funding will reflect each individual’s circumstances, with extra support available for households where one person is over 75, they rely on electric heating, or live in a remote or island community.
Eligibility is based on households which are ‘self-rationing’ their energy, meaning those who are deliberately limiting their energy use so they can afford to spend money on other goods or services. This could be as a result of home working or home schooling due to the pandemic.
In 2019, an estimated 24.6 per cent of all households were in fuel poverty – around 613,000 households – and the pandemic has increased financial hardship for many.
Heating and electricity bills have gone up for many people due to most of the household working from home or home schooling.
Minister for local government and housing Kevin Stewart said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a heavy financial impact on households across Scotland, and affording heating bills is a major concern for many. I am pleased we can make £4m available to Advice Direct Scotland to offer direct practical help to people concerned about energy debts.
“The Scottish Government has provided a further £16m to improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes, and made available £7m in new funding to support fuel-poor households as part of our £100m Winter Support Package.
“We remain committed to ending fuel poverty and to implementing our Fuel Poverty Act, which sets us ambitious targets for reducing fuel poverty nationwide. Later this year we will be publishing our Fuel Poverty Strategy, which will set out how we intend to meet these targets.”
Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland, said: “No household should suffer in fuel poverty or have to ration fuel to get by. The Covid pandemic has increased financial hardship and many Scots have been left struggling as a result of increased energy costs while working from home or home-schooling.
“We are working hard to administer this new fund from the Scottish Government to ensure that fewer Scots are struggling with their energy bills. As well as working closely with partner organisations, our own expert debt advisers can also directly help individuals who have financial worries.”
The fund is part of a £100m winter support fund announced in November by the First Minister to help people pay for food, heating, warm clothing and shelter.
Applications can only be accepted from organisations providing energy and/or debt advice.
This is to ensure that all other reasonable alternatives have been explored and that funding from the Home Heating Support Fund is the most appropriate for the individual’s circumstances.
It will not include people at risk of self-disconnection as they will be directed to a more appropriate funding source, such as the Fuel Bank Foundation.
Local authorities and housing associations across the country have also been invited to register.