What next for fuel poverty in Scotland?

The Scottish Government has finally admitted what has been obvious to everyone – they will not meet their statutory target of ending fuel poverty this year.

Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 the Scottish Government has a statutory duty to; ‘ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that people are not living in fuel poverty in Scotland by November 2016’. The latest figures for 2014 show that around 35% of Scottish households remain in fuel poverty and some argue the true figure is even higher.

Norman Kerr of Energy Action Scotland said: “Given the Scottish Government’s recognition that its fuel poverty target will not be met this year, we are calling on them to widen discussions to include key stakeholders and for there to be public consultation in order to reset the target as soon as possible. The problem of cold, damp and expensive to heat homes must be addressed and there should be no fuel poverty in Scotland.”

EAS has set out six recommendations (see below).

Housing minister, Kevin Stewart defended the missed target, saying: “This government has allocated over half a billion pounds since 2009 and this year we are making available more than £103 million to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency. Two out of five homes are now in the top three ratings for energy efficiency, an increase of 71 per cent since 2010 and 11 per cent in the last year alone.” He also argued that above-inflation energy price increases were “beyond our control”.

It is certainly the case that not all the levers are under the control of the Scottish Government. However, it is less clear that they have done everything they could have done with devolved powers. Either way, it is important now that they work with all the stakeholders to develop a new plan.

Key Recommendations on Fuel Poverty from Energy Action Scotland (May 2016)

Reset the Target to End Fuel Poverty
Discussions on how to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland must be opened now. A new target that is realistic but ambitious must be set. It must be accompanied by a fuel poverty strategy and action plan with costs and timelines. It is essential that there is not a hiatus following the passing of the 2016 target date, which is now widely regarded as being unachievable.

Fund Fuel Poverty Programmes
In 2006 Energy Action Scotland estimated that £200 million per year each year for ten years would be required, from a variety of sources, to tackle fuel poverty. This level of expenditure has not been achieved and must now be re-evaluated. It is acknowledged that the Scottish Government does continue to fund fuel poverty programmes with a positive impact. Programmes designed to reduce fuel poverty across all parts of Scotland must continue to be funded. However, more timely and more comprehensive public reporting to ensure progress is being made is also required.

Consult Early on Energy Efficiency in the Private Sector
Moves to improve energy efficiency standards in private sector homes were shelved by the Scottish Government in 2015. Energy Action Scotland believes it is important not to lose momentum on this initiative and urges the Scottish Government to act early in the new parliamentary session. In particular, tenants in the private rented sector, where high levels of fuel poverty are experienced, should have similar support to that given to tenants in the social rented sector.

Pledge to make Fuel Poverty a Central Pillar of SEEP
As a result of making energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority, the Scottish Government says it will create Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP). Energy Action Scotland believes the Scottish Government must pledge from the outset that a sizable proportion of SEEP will be directed at home energy efficiency and at the poorest households in particular. Reducing fuel poverty must be at least equal in priority to reducing carbon.
Review New Devolved Powers in Relation to Fuel Poverty
Carry out a review of new devolved powers for Scotland in light of their contribution to tackling fuel poverty in a comprehensive new fuel poverty strategy.

Create a Fuel Poverty Cross-Departmental Group and a Cross-Party Group
Fuel poverty is a cross-cutting issue encompassing housing standards, energy affordability, low income, health impacts, advice and debt support services among others. Energy Action Scotland therefore believes the Scottish Government should set up a cross-departmental group, chaired by a Minister, to ensure a better understanding that tackling fuel poverty achieves positive outcomes and cost savings across government. Moreover, the creation of a Cross-Party Group on Fuel Poverty and Domestic Energy Efficiency is long overdue in the Scottish Parliament.

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