Fresh pledge on rural fuel poverty

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart welcomed the change in the definition of fuel poverty

The Scottish Government are confident that the forthcoming Fuel Poverty Bill will help address some of the 53 recommendations identified three years ago by a working group set up to tackle the problem.

The Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force was set up to explore the issues facing people in fuel poverty in rural, remote and off-gas grid areas and to propose solutions. In 2016 its final report included 53 “proposed actions” for Ministers to adopt or pursue in order to lessen the effects of households having to spend more than 10 per cent of their incomes on heat and light.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart told the Free Press the task force’s report and recommendations have “helped inform the development of the Fuel Poverty Bill and draft strategy”, alongside other significant stakeholder engagement, including the first ever Islands Communities Impact Assessment.

He added: “Scotland is one of the few countries in the world to define fuel poverty and set a goal towards eradicating it. By changing the definition of fuel poverty so it’s more closely aligned to relative income poverty and taking steps to ensure it works for remote rural and island communities, we are ensuring our support is focused on those who need it most.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Stewart also said that “tackling and prioritising extreme fuel poverty” – where households have to spend over 20 per cent of their income on heat and light – was the first priority of the new Bill. New definitions of both fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty are currently being worked on.

She added: “Our proposals in the Fuel Poverty Bill will align fuel poverty more closely with low income. Scotland is among only a handful of European countries to define fuel poverty, let alone set targets relating to its eradication. Our proposal to use the Minimum Income Standard is important and innovative and more closely aligns fuel poverty with low income. The UK Minimum Income Standard, used in the new definition of fuel poverty in the Fuel Poverty Bill, takes account of the additional costs associated with living in remote and island communities by applying an uplift for remote rural areas and remote small towns, and, separately for island areas. The final stage of the Fuel Poverty Bill will be debated by parliament next week.”