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What needs to be done to tackle fuel poverty?

The problem of cold homes is an ongoing issue in the UK, with millions of households across the country regularly having to make the difficult choice between eating and heating.

While a variety of schemes and initiatives have been introduced, experts believe that even more needs to be done to eradicate fuel poverty. Andy Whitman, spokesman for the Scottish Greens tells Scottish Housing News that housing needs to be considered a public asset - after all, one family may pay to live in a home now, either with a mortgage or rent, but another family will move in some day. He explains that many houses and tenements across Scotland have stood for 100 years or more. "With some investment and maintenance, they can remain homes for another century," he adds.

Recently, the Scottish government admitted that it would not be able to meet its commitment to eradicate fuel poverty this year. Despite the work that has been done so far, thousands of families are still unable to meet their fuel bills and nearly half of Scottish homes fail basic quality standards. Mr Whitman says that much more needs to be done to end the cold homes scandal. "I believe it's time to move on from pilot project after pilot project and upscale our commitment," he explains.

He says that expert groups have made more than a hundred recommendations for taking action against fuel poverty - and he lists eight of the Green party's leading ideas:

  1. Minimum energy efficiency ratings - While 35 per cent of all people in Scotland are living in fuel poverty, the figure actually varies across the country. In the Western Isles, for example, the number is more than 70 per cent. Mr Whitman says the Scottish government needs to aim for all homes to have an Energy Performance Certificate of at least Band C by 2025. This echoes recent legislation in England and Wales, which will prevent landlords leasing properties that fail to meet basic standards.
  2. Street-by-street retrofitting - A co-ordinated improvement project across many homes at once can lead to some big economies of scale, while also ensuring that every property is brought up to a suitable standard. By carrying out multiple improvements at once - such as installing external wall insulation, repairing walls, replacing windows and damp proofing - even more money can be saved, as things like scaffolding and construction equipment will only need to be set up once.
  3. Supporting owners to carry out repair work - New legislation, such as removing VAT on repairs, could facilitate common improvement works. Mr Whitman also suggests enhancing the role of Home reports and including mandatory energy efficiency measures when a property is sold.
  4. Design smarter homes - Although it's estimated that 80 per cent of the homes that will be used in 2050 have already been built, we can't ignore the huge number of new homes that are currently being constructed. Homes need to be built with energy efficiency in mind - for example, facing the right direction, featuring high levels of thermal insulation, as well as mechanical ventilation and sustainable technology 
  5. Re-define fuel poverty - The current definition in Scotland is more than 15 years old and hasn't stood the test of time well, since incomes haven't raised at the same rate as housing costs. Today, 58 per cent of those in fuel poverty would not be considered to be income poor - but since so much income goes on housing, many remain unable to afford adequate heating.
  6. Bridge the skills gap - Improvement projects can't be carried out if there aren't skilled people able to carry out the work.
  7. Involve energy companies - Mr Whitman says that those who make the greatest profit from inefficient homes should offer more support to those who are struggling to heat their homes.
  8. Treat fuel poverty as a welfare problem - Fuel poverty can cause a huge range of problems for people's health and wellbeing. This means that more engagement with frontline services is necessary to both identify and support vulnerable households.