Western Isles faces highest level of fuel poverty in Scotland, report suggests

Western Isles faces highest level of fuel poverty in Scotland, report suggests

An Affordable Warmth at Home in the Western Isles report released this week by Tighean Innse Gall (TIG) has found that the Western Isles faces the highest levels of fuel poverty in Scotland.

British Gas Energy Trust funded a stand-alone report which was produced from a funded survey which TIG issued to all homes in the Western Isles in February 2023. In total, over 2,044 homes responded, just below 20% of homes in the region. Responses came from all islands and a good geographical spread was achieved.

With fuel poverty an everyday reality for many households in the Western Isles, the findings of TIG’s Affordable Warmth at Home Report emphasise the ongoing challenges faced by many households in the Western Isles in their quest to sustain warmth, amid rising energy costs.

Findings show that over 80% of Western Isles homes spend more than 10% of their income on heating, with 50% of householders spending 20% of their income heating their homes. When compared to official definitions of fuel poverty, this means the Western Isles faces the highest levels of fuel poverty in Scotland.

However, even more concerning, are the findings showing that many householders cannot afford to heat their homes and are therefore rationing their consumption – this means the report is showing an underestimate on the levels of fuel poverty.

When looking at the question “did you feel your house was warm enough last winter?”, despite allocating over 10% of their income to heating costs, an estimated 44% of respondents reported not being sufficiently warm and 22% were only somewhat satisfied. 32% of respondents frequently or consistently resorted to reducing or turning off their heating. This trend was even more pronounced for extreme fuel poverty at 36%.

The Western Isles face the ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to fuel poverty and being able to heat their homes accordingly. Of the survey respondents, 57% of homes were built before 1975 and a further 21% were constructed between 1976 to 1991, with these homes being more challenging to insulate and heat effectively. Detached homes make up the majority of the housing stock at 75%, meaning all external walls are exposed to harsh weather conditions, frequently subjected to strong winds and heavy rainfall.

48% of respondents have oil central heating with a further 31% using electric heating. This evidences the high reliance on oil central heating, which is still required due to the unsuitability of Western Isles housing stock for current renewable technologies. Concerning findings from the respondence shows that 67% of electric heated households are in fuel poverty, with 56% of electric heated homes in extreme fuel poverty. Oil central heating is lower at 52% in fuel poverty and 40% in extreme fuel poverty.

According to TIG, these patterns underline the delicate and almost impossible balance those in the Western Isles face between sufficient warmth and managing costs. They also underscore that, despite incurring higher costs, individuals facing extreme fuel poverty are compelled to compromise their comfort to alleviate the financial strain. The evidence in the report accentuates the urgency of focused interventions to alleviate fuel poverty and to safeguard the well-being of these at-risk households.

Kirsty MacLeod, energy advice manager for TIG, said: “The findings from the report are extremely concerning but sadly not surprising, due to the increasing demand we are seeing for our energy advice service and the financial support we provide. The most worrying findings are the levels of self-rationing which are happening throughout homes in the Western Isles, which is having a detrimental effect on people’s lives and the fabric of their homes.”

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