Poor energy efficiency in the Aberdeen’s granite buildings and high fuel costs help explain why around 29% of the city live in fuel poverty, it has been claimed.
In the second part of the Evening Express’ series on poverty, we look at the work being done to tackle the issue of heating homes across the city.
Latest figures show around 29% of households in Aberdeen are in fuel poverty and 9% in extreme fuel poverty.
Households spending 10% or more of their income on fuel and energy – including housing benefit or income support for mortgage interest – are deemed to be in fuel poverty and those spending 20% or more are in extreme fuel poverty.
Social enterprise Scarf, which is based in Aberdeen, was launched in 1985 and helps to deliver fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes in most north of Scotland council areas.
Lawrence Johnston, business development manager at Scarf, said: “To put that in context, the last figures in 2017 show the average for Scotland was running at 25% so Aberdeen is a little higher than the average.
“In my experience, over the last couple of years, it’s not gone up or down significantly.
“Obviously it is too high but there’s no dramatic increases or decreases.”
One of the main causes for someone in the city to find themselves in fuel poverty is high energy costs, Scarf found.
It made 1,487 home visits in 2018-19, getting full details from 815 households and finding 141 in fuel poverty.
Mr Johnston said: “Domestic energy prices in the last four years have increased about 20%.
“The poor energy efficiency of homes is another reason.
“Aberdeen in particular is quite highly populated in some areas with granite and solid brick homes so no wall insulation and poor energy efficiency.
“Another reason is lower household disposable income.
“The cost of living in Aberdeen for those who are not involved in oil and gas will have an additional challenge.”
Simple steps to reduce your home energy bills
Energy advisers employed by Scarf visit homes across the city delivering advice on behavioral changes householders can adopt to lower their fuel costs. Some of the key advice they offer includes:
• Aim for optimum heating temperature of between 18C and 21C. Putting the temperature down by one degree could save £200 a year.
• Close windows to retain heat
• Change to low energy lightbulbs
• Turn appliances off when not in use
• Have a shower instead of a bath
Measures such as these can save an average family of four around £350 to £400 a year, estimates suggest.
One of the key services Scarf offers is home energy advice through its team of advisers going into city homes.
Mr Johnston said they give all types of efficiency advice and can make referrals for insulation measures.
He added: “We also deliver a range of behavioural advice which is no-cost or low-cost measures to reduce the amount of energy they’re using and reduce their spend on energy.”
One of the most significant projects tackling fuel poverty in is the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland.
The needs-based funding goes to councils to help develop and deliver solutions – mainly solid wall insulation – in areas with high levels of fuel poverty.
Aberdeen received £1.5 million in 2018 under the scheme, and Aberdeenshire £2.2m.
The Scottish Government has a new goal of cutting households in fuel poverty to 5% by 2040.
Mr Johnston said: “Looking at where we sit today at 29%, to get to 5% in another 20 years is certainly a challenging target, but we as an organisation are quite highly involved in funding programmes.”
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Scarf has also worked with the energy suppliers to help them allocate their eco-funds to councils, with the money going to energy efficiency improvement measures like replacing boilers.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “The biggest drivers affecting fuel poverty are high fuel prices and low household incomes, which we have no control over. Prices have been increasing and incomes slashed as a result of UK Government welfare cuts.
“We continue to call on the UK Government and Ofgem to end austerity and deliver the energy market reforms we think are needed for Scotland’s consumers.
“We are doing all we can – investing in energy efficiency and working to maximise incomes through policies such as the Scottish Child Payment.
“We’re also investing £38m in Warmer Homes Scotland over the next two years on heating, offering free measures like heating, insulation and draught proofing through the scheme.
“Our Fuel Poverty Act, passed with unanimous support in Parliament, continues Scotland’s world-leading position as one of only a handful of countries to define fuel poverty, let alone set targets to eradicate it.
“Between 2009 and 2021 we will have allocated over £1 billion to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency.”
Anyone looking for advice can contact the Home Energy Advice Team freephone number on 0808 129 0888.