Scottish government will review definition of fuel poverty

The Scottish government will review the definition of fuel poverty to make sure help is targeted at those who need it most.

Fuel poverty groups in Scotland have made more than 100 recommendations for government to consider to address the issue of fuel poverty in Scotland.

In an independent report published today, the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force urged government to review the definition of fuel poverty after it identified concerns that the current definition can “impede targeting and the measurement of impact.”

The report also made four high level recommendations including that fuel poverty strategy is firmly based on the principle of social justice and a new community-based approach to tackling fuel poverty is developed. It concluded that all four drivers of fuel poverty – income, energy costs, energy performance, and how energy is used in the home – must be addressed in policy.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “The advice is clear that the current definition is unhelpful in ensuring support is delivered to those who need it most. I will take immediate and decisive action to take forward the recommendation on reviewing the definition of fuel poverty.

“Since 2008 over one million energy efficiency measures have been installed in almost one million households across Scotland… We will build on this by investing half a billion pounds over the next four years to continue tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency.

“Over 100 recommendations have been made, many of which are complex and have wider implications that must be considered alongside other policies. All of this cannot happen immediately but both reports are a good first step in informing our new fuel poverty strategy and we will respond fully in due course.”

The groups found that 845,000 households (35 per cent) are living in fuel poverty, with levels far higher in rural areas at 50 per cent. The reports were published alongside a Scottish government research paper on the likelihood of being fuel poor in rural Scotland.

Both papers set out proposals that future programmes have a very specific objective to deal quickly with hard to treat and other poorly performing housing stock, and that the UK government work with Ofgem to ensure regulation of the GB energy market addresses fuel poverty.

Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group chair David Sigsworth said: “The report explores why current programmes have failed to eradicate fuel poverty and concludes that experience over many years has shown that energy efficiency improvements, whilst important, are not enough. Recent increases in underlying costs of fossil fuel, due to devaluation, will exacerbate this situation.”

The Scottish government must “ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that people are not living in fuel poverty in Scotland by November 2016”, however it has already announced that this target will not be met. As a result, Energy Action Scotland is urging ministers to use the new reports to redraw the fuel poverty strategy and to reset the target date to eradicate fuel poverty.

Energy Action Scotland director Norman Kerr said: “There is a wealth of information in the two reports which Ministers must now consider in order to review the fuel poverty strategy for Scotland. 

“The Scottish government, and all political parties in Scotland, acknowledge the problem of fuel poverty and must be given credit for tackling the problem and continuing to fund programmes to that end. However, to meet their ambitions to end the blight of cold, damp homes, more action must now be taken.”

The report will now be considered in full by ministers.