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SFHA responds to inquiry into rising energy prices

By Cassandra Dove, SFHA Research and Policy Lead.

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Earlier this week, SFHA submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s inquiry into rising energy prices, highlighting the need for further action to protect social housing tenants from being pushed further into fuel poverty. 

As a priority, we are calling for the Scottish Government to respond to the recommendations of the Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce (ZEST)  immediately after the local elections and prioritise proposals which will help improve access to affordable warmth. This includes increased investment in frontline advice services, including those provided by social landlords, to increase capacity ahead of the coming winter. We would also like to see an acceleration of social housing retrofit programmes to help minimise energy costs – however, this must also be supported with adequate funding mechanisms to keep rents affordable. 

The submission also sets out other ways in which the Scottish Government could help to alleviate the effects of the energy crisis, either alone or by working with the UK Government. This includes improved targeting of financial support to ensure the greatest resources are directed to those with the greatest fuel poverty pressure and making progress on the wider energy market reforms that are needed to improve fairness for consumers.

While fuel poverty rates in the social sector were already high prior to both the coronavirus pandemic and the recent energy crisis, largely due to lower income amongst social housing tenants, reports from our members demonstrate that the situation has worsened in recent months. Tenants are experiencing increased financial hardship, and there is a growing demand for energy advice and help with fuel costs, even amongst tenants who have not previously required support.

SFHA shares the concerns of Energy Action Scotland, Citizen’s Advice Scotland and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that current interventions, including the £200 repayable rebate of electricity bills will be insufficient to support those most at risk. We would argue that financial support offered to households should be proportionate to the different costs they face, and further action is needed to tackle the underlying causes of rural fuel poverty, in particular. 

The introduction of a Scottish Warm Home Discount Scheme, as outlined in the consultation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy earlier this week, may offer an opportunity to design a scheme better suited to the needs of Scotland. However, as with other devolved winter heating benefits, budgets will need to be increased to better reflect current energy costs and ensure these schemes are effective in alleviating fuel poverty. 

In the immediate term we would like to see a continuation of the Social Housing Fuel Support Fund , which has provided invaluable support to tenants who have been struggling with their fuel costs. This should include an increase in the amount and duration of the fund to facilitate activities with sustained impact, e.g., employment of energy advisors, alongside emergency support. 

 

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