Fuel poverty levels are significantly higher in rural Scotland (settlements with 3000 people or less) than in the rest of Scotland . Over half of all rural and remote households live in fuel poverty, which means that they need to spend more than 10% of their disposable incomes on their essential domestic energy needs, including keeping their homes warm . Nearly two-thirds of the remote households live in fuel poverty, including 23% who live in extreme fuel poverty, this means they need to spend over 20% of their incomes to keep their homes warm and meet their other home energy requirements .
In recognition of the serious and persistent nature of the rural fuel poverty problem, the Scottish Government set up an independent and broadly-based Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force in August 2015. Its remit was to produce a report during September 2016, setting out a realistic and practicable set of actions to:
a) make it significantly easier for people living in rural and remote Scotland to keep their homes warm; and
b) feed into the further development of fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes.
Whilst welcoming existing Scottish Government commitments, the Task Force is advocating a carefully considered series of actions that it believes must be delivered if fuel poverty and inequality in rural Scotland are to be tackled more effectively .
Such actions should be treated as priorities by not only the Scottish and UK Governments but by other leading players, including the principal utility companies and the energy regulator Ofgem, with vital partnership support provided at all levels by local authorities and other bodies committed to tackling rural fuel poverty.
The distinct rural dimensions to fuel poverty in Scotland
The Task Force has identified and evidenced 21 separate dimensions that can result in fuel poverty in rural and remote rural Scotland. These are identified in more detail in Chapter 1 of the Task Force Report. The main drivers of rural fuel poverty identified include amongst other things.
- significantly higher costs of rural living
- higher energy bills that come with living in predominantly “off-gas” areas; the much greater reliance on fuels more expensive than mains gas
- higher than average energy consumption levels, particularly the further north you live
- the added impacts of weather exposure on the fabric of houses combined with greater age and poorer condition of rural housing.
- the added impacts of weather exposure on the fabric of houses combined with greater age and poorer condition of rural housing
- greater proportion of privately rented or owned homes lived in by older people, often single people living alone;
- higher cost of electricity provided to most rural consumers by the two predominant suppliers in the North and South of Scotland “regions”, increased in the north region by the additional 1.2p per unit network cost levied by the north’s predominant supplier
- the weak response by electricity consumers, particularly those with electric heating, to switch supplier. This could save householders a third or more on their bills; and
- the cumulative effect on rural fuel poverty levels plus the added resulting health care costs;
- the inadequacy of key indicators used to identify rural aspects of fuel poverty or measure programme outcomes properly.