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by Jenni Davidson
25 October 2016
Experts recommend new definition of fuel poverty to tackle problem

Experts recommend new definition of fuel poverty to tackle problem

Elderly man with gas fire - Image credit: PA images

Experts have called for the definition of fuel poverty is to be reviewed to ensure help is targeted at those who need it most.

This call for another look at the definition of fuel poverty is one of over 100 recommendations made in two reports on how to address the issue of fuel poverty.

The reports by Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force reports were published alongside a Scottish Government research paper on the likelihood of being fuel poor in rural Scotland.

They come just a couple of weeks before the Scottish Government was due to have eradicated fuel poverty in Scotland completely, a target that was set for November 2016.

The fuel poverty strategic working group concluded that the current definition of fuel poverty, which states that a household has to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on maintaining a “satisfactory heating regime”, may be impeding efforts to target those most in need.

Recent research found that a third of Scottish households live in fuel poverty, going up to 50 per cent in rural areas, but more than half of those who are fuel poor are not income poor.

It has therefore recommended that an independent academic review be commissioned to ensure that help is targeted at those who need it most.

That is one of four high level recommendations, which also include the recommendation that a new strategy is based on all four drivers of fuel poverty – income, energy costs, energy performance, and how energy is used in the home – and that a more joined-up approach is taken across national and local government.

Other recommendations from both independent reports include that future programmes have a specific objective to deal quickly with hard to heat housing and ‘rural proofing’ the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling fuel poverty.

They also recommend that the UK Government works with Ofgem to make sure regulation of the UK energy market addresses fuel poverty and support for initiatives by new electricity providers to provide the high quality services to prepayment meter customers.

The strategic working group report looks at why current programmes have failed to eradicate fuel poverty and concludes that energy efficiency improvements alone are not enough.

Local Government and 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.

“That is why I will take immediate and decisive action to take forward the recommendation on reviewing the definition of fuel poverty and set up the expert independent review called for.

“However I am clear that I will not define away the problem and the changes must be justified to ensure that those in need receive the most support.

“We are committed to eradicating fuel poverty. Since 2008 over one million energy efficiency measures have been installed in almost one million households across Scotland which has helped make homes warmer and easier to heat.

“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.

However, opposition parties have criticised the Scottish Government’s performance in this area.

Scottish Conservative MSP for Glasgow, Annie Wells said: “Having a warm home during winter is something that every Scot should be able to afford, but yet we still have a huge problem with fuel poverty.

“It’s simply not good enough that a third of households can’t afford to heat their homes properly, and it’s time that the Scottish Government took real action.

"The fuel poverty group backs up our own call for major new investment to ensure all homes are warm homes.

“Our manifesto called for £1 billion by 2021 to make homes energy efficient - and the Scottish Government should now get on with it." 

Scottish Labour housing and social justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “No one in Scotland should have to choose between heating or eating in 2016, yet under the SNP government in Edinburgh fuel poverty has doubled.

“The last Labour-led government set a target to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland by November this year, but that target is going to be missed by a mile by the SNP.

She added: “This winter thousands of children will be cold in their own homes and that simply is not acceptable in 2016.

“The SNP government really need to get their act together - the time for talking is over we need action from a government that in 10 years has failed to get a grip.

"Labour wants to see a Warm Homes Act to drive up standards and regulations. We also need to stop the cuts to local councils.

“That's why Labour will propose amendments to the upcoming Scottish budget to introduce a penny for public services on income tax to stop the cuts and invest instead." 

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Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - The Holyrood baby: More likely to live in poverty now than the day she was born.

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