Scotland

Call for new 'fuel poverty' definition

radiator thermostat Image copyright PA

A new definition of fuel poverty is needed to ensure help is targeted at those most in need, according to expert review groups.

It is one of 100 recommendations being considered by the Scottish government.

Ministers are also urged to use new devolved welfare powers and review whether the winter fuel payment is working.

Under the current definition, a third of households (845,000) live in fuel poverty, rising to 50% in rural areas.

The Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force reports were published alongside a Scottish government research paper on the likelihood of being "fuel poor" in rural Scotland.

The Strategic Working Group suggested that a new, community-based approach to tackling fuel poverty be developed.

It also said academics should be asked to draw up a new definition of fuel poverty.

The existing definition of fuel poverty, drawn up 15 years ago, states it is where a household has to spend more than 10% of its income, including benefits, in order to maintain a "satisfactory heating regime".

However, recent research for the Scottish government indicates that more than half of "fuel poor" households would not be classified as "income poor".

Image copyright PA
Image caption The experts suggest a definition of fuel poverty that takes into account the different heating needs of particular age groups

The report suggests a more focused definition be drawn up, taking into account factors such as whether households are burdened by mortgage payments and the variation of heating needs between particular age groups.

On the winter fuel payment, it recognises differing schools of thought, with some suggesting that a more targeted payment would be more effective.

Others argue that targeting would be expensive and lead to some vulnerable individuals losing out.

The report says a Scottish government review should consider the pros and cons of both approaches.

The rural poverty task force's recommendations included rapid action to deal with poor housing stock occupied by the most disadvantaged and "rural proofing" the government's approach to tackling fuel poverty.

It also called for a price comparison website to be set up that included all available tariffs.

Current 'unfairness'

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said the government would now study the recommendations in detail.

He said: "Everyone should be able to heat their home and keep themselves and their families warm, therefore tackling and eradicating fuel poverty is vital and we must make sure the action we are taking is making a difference to those that need it most.

"The advice is clear that the current definition is unhelpful in ensuring support is delivered to those who need it most.

"That is why, I will take immediate and decisive action to take forward the recommendation on reviewing the definition of fuel poverty and set up the expert independent review called for.

"However, I am clear that I will not define away the problem and the changes must be justified to ensure that those in need receive the most support."

David Sigsworth, chairman of the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group, said energy improvement alone was not enough to tackle the problem.

He said: "The group recommends a bold new approach, based on four high-level principles, to deliver affordable and attainable warmth and energy use for everyone in Scotland.

"The new policy should be firmly based on the principle of social justice and use new devolved social security powers to address well-known unfairness in current provisions.

"It must also go beyond improving energy performance of homes and put equal emphasis on the other three drivers of fuel poverty - income, energy costs, and how energy is used in the home."

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