SFHA gives cautious welcome to commitment to end fuel poverty

Sarah Boyack

Sarah Boyack

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has welcomed moves to enshrine the Scottish Government’s proposed new fuel poverty target in legislation but said that more investment is required to make the ambition a reality.

A public consultation on the proposals was launched yesterday to seek opinions on, among other things, ambitious targets for fuel poverty reduction – with a revised definition recommended by an independent, expert review – and the timescales for meeting them.

Announcing the consultation, housing minister Kevin Stewart said responses will inform the new strategy and the development of a Warm Homes Bill, due to be introduced in 2018, which will enshrine the proposed new fuel poverty target in legislation.

In its response to the statement, the SFHA said there needs to be a significant increase in investment in home energy efficiency.

SFHA head of public affairs, Sarah Boyack, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to ending fuel poverty and its intention to enshrine the commitment in law. We also welcome that the government continues to fund fuel poverty schemes, which other parts of Great Britain do not receive.

“We believe, however, that there needs to be a significant increase in investment in home energy efficiency – in line with the Scottish Government’s commitment to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority. We also believe that minimum energy efficiency standards have to be set for all home tenures – not just for social housing.

“The proposals come at a time when fuel poverty levels in Scotland – under the current definition – remain unacceptably high at 31%. In rural areas off the gas grid, where energy prices are higher and homes are often hard to treat, fuel poverty levels are also much higher. Addressing fuel poverty in rural Scotland should therefore be a major priority for the new strategy. We are disappointed that the Scottish Government does not plan to include an uplift for rural areas in the Minimum Income Standard that will be used in calculating fuel poverty. Research commissioned by SFHA and others found that people living in rural and remote areas require higher incomes, and housing related costs, such as higher energy bills, are a significant contributor to this.

“While we welcome the commitment to focus on households in fuel poverty, the government must not lose sight of the need to increase energy efficiency in the nation’s homes in order to insulate against rising energy prices. Increasing home energy efficiency has the additional benefits of reducing carbon emissions, in line with the challenging climate change targets, and creating jobs and training in a labour intensive industry.

“Housing associations have the skills and the groupings of property to lead on home energy efficiency and community renewables projects – they already have the most energy efficient homes by tenure in Scotland. Housing associations need funding support to continue this investment and lead progress to an energy efficient low carbon Scotland, where fuel poverty is consigned to the past.”

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said the new consultation offers the opportunity to help ensure that those in fuel poverty receive the support that they need.

Craig Salter, energy policy officer in the Consumer Futures Unit of CAS, said: “Fuel poverty remains far too high in Scotland at over 30%, and it is crucial that any new definition helps to target support effectively at those with the greatest need, while providing safeguards to ensure that anyone who needs support does not lose out.

“As Scotland’s consumer champion we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to help ensure that its new fuel poverty strategy is sufficiently ambitious to achieve these goals, and has consumers at its heart.”