Exclusive: Scottish ‘fuel bank’ scheme set to expand as fuel poverty grows

Fuel bank scheme will offer emergency assistance to Scots going for days without electricity

THE NUMBER of Scottish ‘fuel banks’ is set to expand to deal with the spread of fuel poverty across the country.

Scotland’s first fuel bank, which provides free electricity for food aid recipients with pre-payment meters, opened in Glasgow south food bank at the end of July.

CommonSpace can reveal that there are hopes to launch more fuel banks in Scotland after a pilot scheme across the UK was inundated with demand.

The scheme, which is organised by the National Energy Action (NEA) and orgnaised through food banks established to deal with food poverty, currently operates 10 fuel banks across the UK.

The Trussel trust told CommonSpace that it hoped to open further food banks, but would be limited to a small number initially due to tight funding restrictions.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “People supported by our fuel banks have told us that they have made a huge difference, which is why we launched our first fuel bank in Glasgow, last week.

“We are aiming to launch one or two more fuel banks to help people elsewhere in Scotland.”

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The trust said that it was unable to confirm the locations of future fuel banks and that the limited pool of funding, acquired by NEA, still has to be allocated. The spokesperson also said that there was a responsibility for energy companies to help their customers when they are in need.

He said: “Fuel banks can form part of the practical solutions needed to tackle poverty but, of course, more can – and must – be done to prevent people falling into a crisis which means they cannot eat or heat their home. We would be keen to see more action by energy companies to help their customers, particularly those on pre-payment meters, when they get into difficulty.”

Around a third of Scottish households live in fuel poverty, far above the UK average, despite Scotland being a country rich in oil and renewable energy resources.

In 2013, 39 per cent of Scottish households were in fuel poverty compared to just 12 per cent in England.

Evidence of dangerous levels of fuel insecurity and fuel poverty in Scottish communities has mounted in 2016.

In June, a survey of households receiving food aid from Rutherglen and Cambuslang foodbank found that 40 per cent of respondents had gone stretches of several days without electricity. Ninety per cent of respondents used electricity top-up cards for pre-payment meters of the kind the fuel banks will cater for.

Oil prices have plummeted since 2014, falling below $30 a barrel early in 2016, but energy suppliers have failed to pass on savings from the price fall.

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Norman Kerr, director of  Energy Action Scotland, told CommonSpace that UK and Scottish governments should try a new approach to tackling fuel poverty, given the worsening situation.

Kerr said: “Around 2002, fuel poverty in Scotland had fallen to a low point and the duty set by the Housing Act to end fuel poverty by November 2016 looked achievable.

“Since then, schemes running at both Scottish and GB levels have succeeded in so far as they have increased the average energy efficiency levels of homes in Scotland.  However, fluctuations over the same period in energy prices and in household income have dented progress in tackling fuel poverty overall.

“With the Scottish Government recently having stated that it will miss the 2016 target to end fuel poverty in Scotland, there now needs to be a resetting of plans. At the heart of the new strategy has to be consideration of the three main causes of fuel poverty – poor energy efficiency, low household income and high energy price.

“People in Scotland today should not have to make the difficult choice between basics such as turning on the heating or oven or buying food for themselves and their family.”

Picture courtesy of Neil Lall

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