Sector calls for increased ambition on fuel poverty

A new bill which will set targets to reduce fuel poverty in Scotland is “too narrowly focused” and will fail to address the “scandal” of cold, damp homes, according to campaigners.

While welcoming the introduction of the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Strategy and Definition) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, the Existing Homes Alliance said it fears that the Parliament could miss a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity unless amendments are made.

Last month a group of 50 civil society and business organisations launched a joint statement calling for a real Warm Homes Bill that would deliver affordable to heat, low carbon homes for everyone in Scotland. Such legislation would help end fuel poverty, create new jobs and investment, and tackle climate change.

“While legislation on fuel poverty is very welcome, this bill is far too narrow.”

A Warm Homes Bill tackling both fuel poverty and energy efficiency was promised in the SNP manifesto for the last Holyrood elections, and has broad cross-party support, though the Scottish Government has thus far introduced a Fuel Poverty Bill.

Alliance chair Lori McElroy said: “More than a quarter of Scottish households are still living in fuel poverty – the same proportion who faced cold homes a decade ago – and over a million homes fall below the energy efficiency standard needed for our health. All political parties agree this is unacceptable.

“While legislation on fuel poverty is very welcome, this bill is far too narrow, focused just on creating a new definition of fuel poverty and setting new fuel poverty targets. This is incredibly important, but we can do so much more. We urge all MSPs to use the scrutiny process to ensure this legislation is strengthened so it can deliver on the promise of warm homes for all.”

Lori McElroy added: “It is not often that such a wide range of voices from across Scotland come together in such a powerful way. There is a broad, growing consensus across society, business, and among politicians that we need to take real action on fuel poverty and energy efficiency.

“Bringing Scotland’s homes up to a standard of energy efficiency will tackle fuel poverty and climate change, reduce ill-health, improve well-being, reduce inequalities, and create and sustain jobs across Scotland. It is quite simply one of the best investments that the Scottish Government could make.”

“A new fuel poverty strategy must address all the drivers of fuel poverty, as improving energy efficiency alone will not end fuel poverty in Scotland.”

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) agreed that while it welcomed the government’s commitment to reduce fuel poverty, more needed to be done.

Sarah Boyack, head of public affairs at SFHA, said: “We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has shown commitment to tackling fuel poverty by setting out plans to reduce fuel poverty and a commitment to make continued investment in home energy efficiency.

“However, although we welcome the fact that the target to reduce fuel poverty to 10% by 2040 has been reduced to below 5% by 2040, we have concerns that the proposed targets lack sufficient ambition. We believe that proposals in the new bill do not go far enough and that more must be done to invest in energy efficiency and to provide affordable warmth. We are also concerned that fuel poverty levels in rural areas will be underestimated when a new method to measure fuel poverty is introduced.”

The SFHA will be responding to proposals in the bill and by calling for:

  • A time based target to end fuel poverty rather than to reduce it to below 5% by 2040
  • Long term funding to invest in home energy efficiency for all homes (at present the bulk of funding is not available to housing associations)
  • Fuel poverty measurement to take account of the higher costs of living in rural areas and the higher fuel costs in off gas areas
  • Ms Boyack added: “Housing associations have a strong track record in energy efficiency, renewables and affordable warmth. Associations have the most energy efficient homes in Scotland and have a track record of delivering energy efficiency advice and maximising tenants’ incomes, as well as investing in initiatives such as district and renewable heating. This investment creates jobs and improves health.

    “Our members are ideally placed to lead on programmes to tackle fuel poverty but need the long term support to do this – we are therefore calling for a time based target to end fuel and for housing associations to have access to funds to improve home energy efficiency.”

    Citizens Advice Scotland also gave a qualified welcome to the bill but has set out ways in which it believes more progress could be made.

    CAS energy spokesman Craig Salter said: “The Fuel Poverty Bill is a step in the right direction. It is unacceptable that so many households in Scotland are in fuel poverty, so we welcome the new definition, renewed targets, and moves towards a new fuel poverty strategy.

    “Our own research suggests that a change to the definition of fuel poverty may help to ensure that support reaches those who need it most. These include younger people, those who are renting their home and those who use electric heating.

    “However, it is disappointing that the government has not included the recommendation of an enhanced Minimum Income Standard for people in remote rural areas, who often find it harder to afford their energy bills due to higher living costs. A new definition of fuel poverty should take this into account to ensure that it reflects the needs of these households.

    “We are glad to see that the Scottish Government has strengthened its target to reduce fuel poverty, with a target of 5% instead of 10%. However, a timeframe of achieving this by 2040 could still see a generation of households living in fuel poverty, and this target could be achieved sooner.

    “A new fuel poverty strategy must address all the drivers of fuel poverty, as improving energy efficiency alone will not end fuel poverty in Scotland. There is a real need for additional financial support to address rising energy costs and low incomes.”

    “The UK Minimum Income Standard (MIS) ignores the rural and poverty premiums experienced by many.”

    Fuel poverty charity Energy Action Scotland said it was “disappointed” by the bill.

    Director Norman Kerr said: “While the government has raised its ambition - intending now that no more than 5% (previously 10%) of Scottish homes will be fuel poor by 2040 - Energy Action Scotland remains disappointed by the content of the new bill. It expects that a full generation from now a significant number of households will still be fuel poor and this is clearly unacceptable.

    “Energy Action Scotland agrees with the minister’s belief that ‘everyone in Scotland should have the right to live in a warm, comfortable home’ and welcomes the fact that the Bill takes account of ‘other reasonable fuel needs’. However, we profoundly disagree on the timescale for that ambition.

    “Energy Action Scotland is also disappointed that the Scottish Government continues to use the UK Minimum Income Standard (MIS) in its fuel poverty calculation without the need to adjust the MIS thresholds upwards for households living in remote rural areas. This takes no account of the specific circumstances of hundreds of thousands of rural fuel poor who pay significantly more for all goods and services, not just energy costs. It ignores the rural and poverty premiums experienced by many.

    “Despite this, Energy Action Scotland remains committed to working with the Scottish Government and all MSPs who share our concern about the 649,000 households in Scotland currently living in fuel poverty. Energy Action Scotland will continue the work to ensure that a warm, dry, affordable-to-heat home becomes a reality in Scotland, not simply an aspiration.”

    The Scottish Greens have bemoaned the lack of a Warm Homes Bill and said the current proposal doesn’t go far enough.

    Housing spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP said: “It’s very disappointing that the Scottish Government has taken so long to publish a bill that doesn’t go far enough to tackle the twin issues of fuel poverty and climate change. Despite the SNP promising to deliver a Warm Homes Bill that would ‘tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency’ in their 2016 manifesto, this bill falls short by only seeking to create a new definition of fuel poverty with new targets.

    “While targets can be welcome, they must be meaningful and be appropriately measured otherwise we will fall short as happened with the first Housing Act of the Scottish Parliament, which sought to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016. I will table amendments to this bill that will tackle fuel poverty directly as well as deliver warmer homes.”

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