Rural consumers ‘bearing the brunt’ of Scotland’s energy crisis

Rural consumers 'bearing the brunt' of Scotland's energy crisis

Citizens Advice Scotland has today published new data that shows the huge debts that people in Scotland owe to energy companies.

In 2023/24, the average amount of energy-related debt that was brought to Scotland’s CAB network was around £2300. The figure is significantly higher in remote and rural areas, where the average was £3047.

Over a third of all Scottish CAB clients who have multiple debts and incomes too low to meet essential living costs had some level of fuel debt as part of their arrears. Across the energy market as a whole (i.e. not just CAB clients) the average energy debt for consumers with no repayment plan in place was £1761.

The figures were presented by CAS this week to the energy regulator Ofgem, who had called for evidence on the issue of energy debt.

Publishing the figures, CAS social justice spokesperson Matthew Lee said: “This data shows the shocking extent of the energy bills crisis in Scotland. And behind the statistics are real people who are struggling to put food on the table and stay in their homes and whose income simply isn’t high enough to pay their bills. So debts like this build up.

“The figure for the average debt is bad enough but the amount for those in remote and rural communities is breathtaking. People in northern areas tend to need more energy because the climate is colder and in all rural areas the building stock tends to be older, so less energy efficient. But debts like these are just devastating, particularly if they go unpaid so they just grow and grow.

“We’ve made a number of recommendations to Ofgem about tackling this issue. We recognise that the cost of wholesale energy is high, and that energy companies are making some efforts to help customers pay their bills, but these often vary and are not consistent. We’d like to see Ofgem being more robust in applying industry-wide good practice in this area, perhaps following the guidelines that the Financial Conduct Authority has adopted in its approach to dealing with people in arrears.

“However, we believe the single biggest measure that could make the most striking difference would be the introduction of a social tariff, applied to the bills of all consumers on low incomes. This would make the significant, long-term change that’s so desperately needed and we urge the industry to adopt it now.

“In the meantime anyone who is struggling with their energy bills, or any other matter can get free, confidential and impartial support from the CAB network. We don’t judge, we just help, and we’ll do all we can to reduce or help you manage your debts, however big they are.”

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