Majority of Scottish housing associations report increase in number of tenants struggling to heat homes

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has called on the UK Government to take “urgent action” after a survey found increasing numbers of tenants experiencing or at risk of fuel poverty.

A majority of housing associations also reported an increase in tenants self-disconnecting their own power or heating due to fuel poverty.

The findings of the SFHA survey have been released ahead of the stage three proceedings of the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill on June 6.

In it, 73% of respondents said they had noticed an increase in the number of tenants experiencing or at risk of fuel poverty, often as a result of welfare reform. Wider poverty issues, rising energy prices and increased fuel debt were also given as reasons for increasing fuel poverty.

Meanwhile, 61% of the 52 housing associations and co-operatives surveyed reported an increase in the number of tenants self-disconnecting their own power or heating due to fuel poverty. Welfare reform was also given as the main reason for self-disconnection.

A staff member from an Argyll and Bute-based housing association said: “A number of tenants have stopped using heating because they can’t afford it… mostly it’s because they don’t want another bill to worry about, so they do without whenever possible.”

Housing associations also reported an increase in the number of tenants in fuel debt, with 73% stating that levels had risen.

Housing associations are working hard to ensure their tenants do not have to cut back on heating because they cannot afford it. In Glasgow, one housing association helped its tenants to manage a total of £63,000 of fuel debt. Housing associations are working closely with money and debt advice providers to reduce fuel poverty for tenants.

Bill Banks, chief executive with Kingdom Housing Association, the Fife association named in the report, told Scottish Housing News: “The survey undertaken by the SFHA confirms some alarming findings in relation to tenant’s experiences of fuel poverty. Rising energy costs, the impact of welfare reform and general cost of living all contribute to the issues and it’s important that all landlords do what they can to assist and support tenants to address the issues.

“Due to the financial pressures being experienced by tenants, we are finding that some stop using their heating and self disconnect their power, given it’s often a choice between heating and eating. At Kingdom we employ an energy adviser and offer a range of services to tenants that could help them address issues related to energy efficiency and fuel costs. This helps many tenants however it is often very late in the process when we become aware of the particular problems.

“The services we offer has helped many tenants successfully reduce their fuel debt and claim the full benefits they are entitled to. We can also help tenants switch to more advantageous suppliers.”

Sally Thomas, SFHA chief executive, said: “It is shocking how many people are struggling to afford to heat their homes. The UK Government must take urgent action to raise social security in line with inflation to ensure no-one has to choose between heating or eating.

“Social landlords are working hard to make homes more energy efficient and reduce the cost of heating them for their tenants. However, in order to end fuel poverty, it is vital social landlords are eligible for grant assistance from the Scottish Government.”

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