Four hundred partners sign up for £4m fund to help Scots struggling with energy bills

More than 400 charities, organisations and advisers have signed up to refer Scots struggling with their energy bills to a £4 million support fund.

Four hundred partners sign up for £4m fund to help Scots struggling with energy bills

The Scottish Government scheme is being administered by national advice service Advice Direct Scotland, and ‘referral partners’ can still register to help their clients hit by the cost-of-living crisis.

Registrations remain open and applications for financial support can be made until the end of March.

THAW Orkney, a charitable organisation that assists fuel poor households, has been able to secure individual grants averaging around £350 to dozens of households since the fund opened in December - making payments directly to people’s energy providers or supporting clients with weekly top-up texts.

These awards are helping households to manage their energy bills or reduce their debts, sometimes even clearing arrears altogether.

Rachael Taylor, 31, received £350 towards her energy bill through THAW Orkney after the cost of her electricity more than doubled in the winter months - leaving her having to choose between heating her home or refuelling her car. She said: “It puts my head above water financially and means I don’t have to stress over where it’s all going.”

The Home Heating Support Fund is open until March 31 and applications can be made on behalf of individuals by ‘referral partners’ through the website.

Charities, housing associations, and community organisations that provide energy or debt advice are encouraged to register online so that they can seek funding for people they support.

Targeted funding from the Home Heating Support Fund will reflect each individual’s circumstances, with extra support available for households where one person is over 75, living with a disability or illness, and/or living in a remote or island community.

Payments start at £100, rising to £1,000 to clear outstanding debt, with the money paid directly to suppliers on behalf of the household. Eligibility is based on households that are ‘self-rationing’ their energy, meaning those who are deliberately limiting their energy use so that they can afford to spend money on other goods or services.

Payments can be for electricity, oil, gas, LPG, coal or other forms of heating, and are made directly to the supplier. Individuals cannot apply directly to the fund.

Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland, said: “Since launching the scheme, more than 400 referral partners have registered and we’re receiving hundreds of applications on behalf of their clients who are struggling with energy bills. This demonstrates the scale of the cost-of-living crisis.

“But we know there are more people out there who need support, so we encourage any charities, housing associations, or community organisations which provide energy or debt advice to register with us.

“This fund will prove absolutely crucial in ensuring that households who have been hit the hardest can continue to heat their homes and feed their families.”

Craig Nisbet, a community support officer at THAW Orkney, told of the huge difference the fund has made to his customers and encouraged other organisations to register to become referral partners. He said: “Having access to this fund this year means I am making some wonderful phone calls where I’m getting to tell people ‘your child will be warm this winter’.

“When we’re calling these people, you can feel their shoulders drop, you can feel their tension disappear. There’s so much else to worry about at the moment and this is one less weight on them. As a small, third sector organisation working locally, with a small staff number and limited resources, we’re delighted we have been able to bring such a fantastic amount of support into a small, rural community through this scheme.

“We’ve seen families and households hugely impacted by this where they know they are not going to be cold in the immediate future. If there are organisations in other small communities that know people who are struggling and don’t know how to access the funds to help them, becoming a referral partner can give you access to life-changing support for people. It will get people through the winter.”

Mr Nisbet added that many people are currently “pre-emptively self-restricting” their energy use ahead of prices going up in April. He continued: “To give people that level of leeway and say, you can be warm for a couple of months and know you’re going into that point with a positive balance rather than chasing yourself before April is just great.”

Rachael Taylor, who is from Orkney and lives alone, said: “My bills in winter absolutely sky-rocket, they go from around £100 a month to £250 a month. I don’t have my heating turned up, I have very little heating on in my house and tend to grab a jumper and a couple of blankets when it gets chilly.

“I’ve been dealing with THAW since last year when I had problems with my electricity, and they’ve been wonderful in signposting what’s available. The only way I could afford to pay for these bills would be to not put fuel in my car, which when you live in a remote or a rural area is really important.

“All of my closest friends live eight miles from me, and the closest place I can add to my electricity meter is 13 miles away, so my car is really valuable. It also means I can choose to do my food shopping at a larger, more affordable supermarket than at a smaller, more expensive local shop.

“THAW told me they could support me through the Home Heating Support Fund which has been a massive help. The £350 is more than a month and a half of electricity for me.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. It means this month I can tuck away the normal amount I would have spent on my electricity which in turn puts me in a better position going forward. It puts my head above water financially and means I don’t have to stress over where it’s all going.”

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