Scottish social housing gets extra £3.5m to fight fuel poverty

Sum confirmed at Housing Scotland 2019 as Scottish Parliament passes pioneering fuel efficiency legislation.

heating

Scotland’s social housing sector gets £3.5m in extra funding to take a lead on improving the nation’s energy efficiency and cut fuel poverty.

The sum was confirmed in an address by Aileen Campbell MSP, Scottish government cabinet secretary for communities and local government, to Housing Scotland 2019.

During the SHFA conference in Glasgow, the Scottish Government unanimously passed legislation to support those struggling with fuel costs.

The new funding is provided for measures, such as insulation and internal improvements, to social rented accommodation, with £3.5m found through the Scottish government’s Energy portfolio, the conference heard.

To receive the funding, projects must also include activity to reduce a building’s carbon footprint, such as ground source heat pumps, biomass energy from organic material and solar panels.

“The SFHA has been calling for additional support for social landlords to reduce fuel poverty and increase energy efficiency,” said SFHA chief executive Sally Thomas.

“We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this £3.5m and hope it is the first step towards permanent funding.”

A recent survey by SFHA reported a 73% increase in tenants at risk of or experiencing fuel poverty, with welfare reform given as one of the main causes.

“Addressing energy efficiency alone will not be enough to eradicate fuel poverty, and we will keep lobbying the UK government to raise social security in line with inflation to ensure no one has to choose between heating or eating,” said Thomas.

The conference heard that by the end of 2021, the Scottish government will have allocated more than £1bn since 2009 to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency – £145m allocated to improve the energy efficiency of Scotland’s building stock this year alone.

Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing sets a single minimum rating for landlords to achieve, which varies depending on the property type and the fuel type used to heat it.

With the Scottish government committed to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 – 35,000 for social rent – more than £3.3bn is being invested into the affordable housing programme, the single biggest investment in affordable housing since devolution.

Latest statistics show that, since 2007, more than 86,000 affordable homes have been delivered, including more than 59,000 for social rent.

SHFA has gone up against the Westminster government over a survey exposing the extent 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 showed 73% of respondents  seeing 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 referenced.

Overall, 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.

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

In Glasgow, one association helped its tenants to manage a total of £63,000 of fuel debt.

This week, the Scottish Parliament passed the final stage of its Fuel Poverty Bill, enshrining in law the Scottish government’s commitment to tackle the root causes of fuel poverty and transform homes.

The Bill – pitched as the most ambitious and comprehensive legislation of its type in the UK – defines a household to be in fuel poverty if more than 10% of its net income (after housing costs) is required to heat the home and pay for other fuel costs – with not enough money left for a decent standard of living.

If more than 20% of net income is needed, the household is defined as being in extreme fuel poverty.

In law, that sets a target of no more than 5% of Scottish households in fuel poverty by 2040, and no more than 1% of households being in extreme fuel poverty.

There are also targets to reduce household fuel poverty levels as progress is made toward meeting the 2040 targets.

Scotland maintains a world-leading position as one of only a handful of countries to define fuel poverty, let alone set targets to eradicate it.

Speaking outside of Housing Scotland 2019, Holyrood’s Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, said the Bill’s targets were “challenging, yet realistic” in targeting resources to best effect.

“The innovative use of the Minimum Income Standard means that we have a definition which also takes into account household incomes,” said Stewart.

“And with an uplift for remote rural and island areas recognising their higher cost of living, we are taking into account the different needs of all of Scotland.”

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