by Kate Morrison, Energy policy manager, Citizens Advice Scotland.
This article first appeared in the Sunday Herald on 17 June 2018.
Fuel poverty rates remain stubbornly high in Scotland at 26.5%. The Scottish Government is seeking to change the definition – a change we broadly support as it will better identify who is in need of assistance – but this will not solve the basic problem that too many Scots can’t afford to heat their home, and while the number of Scots with energy debt is decreasing, the average debt owed is growing.
On the plus side, the issue is currently high on the political agenda. The Scottish Government is expected to publish their Fuel Poverty Bill soon and later this year we expect more details on their proposed publicly-owned energy company. Alongside this there will be major changes in energy regulation, technology and retail markets at a UK level.
In this context Citizens Advice Scotland is determined to continue influencing energy policy in the interests of the consumer. We regularly publish details of the advice Scottish CABs have given on energy issues, and on Wednesday we will convene a major conference in Edinburgh to discuss ways of solving energy consumers’ problems.
Fuel poverty of course remains the most urgent of these. Our conference will consider who are the Scots who are in fuel poverty, what characteristics they share and how can we make sure they get the support they need.
There are four key drivers of fuel poverty: energy prices, household income, home energy efficiency, and how energy is used in the home. We have actually spoken to people in fuel poverty to ask them what type of support they would like and our research on this will also be published next week.
In the meantime, the energy market is not fair. Price rises fly in the face of national efforts to reduce energy costs. This is a problem for everyone, but certain household budgets are hit harder than others. People who use electricity to heat their home can pay three times as much as they would for gas heating, and for the vast majority switching to gas is not an option. On top of this, we know that households who don’t use gas are more likely to be in fuel poverty, more likely to live rurally and more likely to include people over 60.
Governments, regulators and energy companies must put consumers at the heart of their policies. We will continue to push them to ensure that support is available for vulnerable households.
And last but not least, consumers themselves need to play their own part and pro-actively exert their power by switching supplier and availing themselves of the support that is on offer to help them conserve energy and so save costs, e.g. our Energy Best Deal project. As always, the Scottish CAB network is here to help advise on how to do this.
The fact that over a quarter of our citizens can’t afford to heat their home in 2018 is a scandal that shames Scotland. If the will exists to fix it, let’s get on with it.