Douglas Fraser writes on the BBC website about the progress made in 2016 to reduce the level of those households considered in fuel poverty. Interestingly, two thirds of the change was explained by falling energy prices, and one third by improved energy efficiency. While the progress was good, now the challenge is underway to help the others.
Fuel poverty levels in Scotland decrease as energy prices fall
Fuel poverty has fallen by nearly 100,000 households in a year, according to the latest home conditions survey.
The Scottish government figures show that in 2016, 649,000 households had to spend more than 10% of income on fuel to warm the home.
According to statisticians, two thirds of the change was explained by falling energy prices, and one third by improved energy efficiency.
Very little of the change was explained by rising income.
The improvement was clearest in the private sector, compared with social housing. Fuel poverty is clearly more widespread in rural homes.
‘Below tolerable standards’
The fuel poverty figure is one of several indicators that the standards of Scottish homes have continued to improve in recent years.
However, the Scottish Housing Conditions Survey showed that 3% of homes, or 39,000 properties, are in conditions deemed to be “below tolerable standards”. More than four in ten of these are due to dampness, and a quarter have poor insulation.
Such houses are officially seen as being unsuitable for anyone to live in them. The scale of the problem has fallen, down from 4% of homes since 2012.
The Scottish Housing Quality Standards are less stringent, and cover 55 different aspects of a home’s suitability. The failure rate has fallen from 61% to 45%.
The main reason was poor energy efficiency. That has fallen from 49% failure to 33% during this decade. An eighth of homes were deemed to have failed because they fell short of guidelines on health, safety and security.
The survey also showed that 67,000 homes have too few bedrooms for the number of people who live in them.
On energy efficiency, the 2016 survey showed “strong improvement” in Scotland’s housing stock. The share of the most energy efficient homes increased from 24% in 2010 to 43% last year. In the same period, the proportion of properties in the lowest bands almost halved, from 27% to 14%.
The level of disrepair reduced by five percentage points between 2015 and 2016. Last year, 68% of all homes had some degree of disrepair, however minor, down from 73% in 2015.
Disrepair to “critical elements” stood at 48%, while 28% of dwellings had some instances of urgent disrepair. In 6% of the housing stock, some extensive disrepair was present. These also all represent improvements on 2015.
Sarah Boyack, head of public affairs at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said: “It is particularly concerning that the percentage of housing association households in fuel poverty is higher than the overall national average, despite their housing being the most energy efficient.
“The figures demonstrate that social landlords need more support to further improve the energy efficiency of their stock in order to help their tenants who are on lower incomes and therefore more vulnerable to fuel poverty”.
Lori McElroy, of the Existing Homes Alliance – a group of organisations campaigning on housing – said the fall in fuel poverty is welcome, but for a quarter of households to remain in that position “is unacceptable, particularly in rural areas where fuel poverty levels remain high at 37%.
She added: “We call on the Scottish government to do more to help people who are living in hard-to-heat housing, especially those who live off the gas grid or use electric heating”.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “While this is obviously welcome news we will continue to take action across government to reduce fuel poverty in Scotland which is why we currently have a consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy – including setting new statutory targets and a revised definition of fuel poverty that will place a greater emphasis on households with lower incomes and high housing and fuel costs.”