Background

The Scottish Government launched a public consultation on its new draft Fuel Poverty Strategy on the 9th of November. The strategy looks at current legislative framework, and sets out detailed proposals for a new fuel poverty strategy in Scotland. Community organisations such as ours were invited to feed into the public event consultations.  The consultation is currently open till the 1st of February 2018, and responses can be submitted here. The new strategy not only reviews the current definition but also sets new long term fuel poverty strategy and targets.

So what is the current definition and how will the new definition be different?

The current strategy defines a household to be in “fuel poverty” when it has to spend more than 10% of its income (wages, benefits etc) on all household fuel use to maintain a satisfactory heating regime. There has been much debate on the equality impact of the current definition as the definition fails to capture data on a household’s normal heating regime, is not able to distinguish households that are not poor but are inefficient homes and there is no information available on the method of assessing household income and occupancy levels

The proposed new definition indicates Scottish households are in fuel poverty if:  ‘they need to spend more than 10% of their after housing cost (AHC) income on heating and electricity in order to attain a healthy indoor environment that is commensurate with their vulnerability status;

and

if these housing and fuel costs were deducted, they would have less than 90% of Scotland’s Minimum Income Standard[1] as their residual income from which to pay for all the other core necessities commensurate with a decent standard of living.

One difference between the old and new definition is the increase in the age threshold, which is considered as a proxy for vulnerability to cold-related health impacts (in the absence of a reported long term sickness or disability), from 60 to 75 years.  According 2014 data, over half of single pensioner households in Scotland (58 per cent) live in fuel poverty. While nearly half (44 per cent) of pensioner couples live in fuel poverty. While the pensioner fuel poverty data does not give the breakdown of age band, which would be indicative of the percentage of the pensioner population under 75 years, that is likely to experience fuel poverty, under the new definition the rise in age threshold means that a pensioner, who is under 75 years, may not qualify as fuel poor.  This means that pensioners who are under 75 years, and are living in fuel poverty, as per current definition, will fall through the net, unless they qualify for support through other criteria of the new definition.

In our experience age and ethnicity act as multiple barriers in accessing support available across mainstream services, including obtaining any energy efficiency measures. One of the scenarios we have encountered when supporting clients in becoming more energy efficient is having their gas and electric with two different suppliers. This is specially the case with the older clients, as they prefer not to change the status quo. If the clients are from vulnerable communities and may not have fluent communication skills, it gets more challenging in accessing the right information and service, as much of the information is online and is technology dependant.

So what can be done at the grassroots level?

While increasing age threshold may not have any direct relation to energy efficiency practices, one way to reduce fuel costs for vulnerable and fuel poor households is to have a dual fuel supply with the same supplier. While the jury is still out on whether suppliers do pass on the dual fuel benefit, it is worth shopping around to compare tariffs. While information is available online through a number of comparison websites, we also have been supporting vulnerable clients across Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire in reviewing their energy consumption, with support from Home Energy Scotland, which offers impartial advocacy and support free of cost.  We will also be working in partnership with Home Energy Scotland in the Feb- March 2018 to raise awareness on the benefits of dual fuel tariffs.

[1] Minimum Income Standard is defined as the income that different household types need in order to reach a minimum socially acceptable standard of living, drawing on the experience and opinions of ordinary people