8. Policy ideas
This chapter covers participants’ views on potential policies that the Scottish Government could put in place to improve its advice offer for those in fuel poverty, as well as further suggestions of what types of support would make a difference for them personally.
Participants were asked what they thought of the following four policy ideas:
1. Support to help people switch to a different energy supplier or switch to paying by direct debit, to help them reduce their bills. A Home Energy Scotland advisor would talk through the different options, manage the switch and then call back to check how it was going after one year.
2. Further support for people already receiving help through programmes like Warmer Homes Scotland, providing more targeted and tailored support such as switching suppliers, advice on using heating efficiently and maintaining good air quality. They would then receive a call back in six months, and another one year later, to check how things are going.
3. A benefits check referral, where Home Energy Scotland could refer people to Citizens Advice Scotland or Social Security Scotland so that they can check whether they were eligible for any benefits that they may not know about. This would involve sharing information – passing on personal details between different organisations.
4. Further support to help make home improvements, including help with loft clearances, moving furniture or lifting flooring, and other barriers that make it difficult to improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes.
In general, all four policies were seen as good ideas, being perceived as potentially helpful sources of support for those who might need it. However, the ideas were not generally seen as relevant or applicable to participants’ individual circumstances, and therefore few felt they would have a direct impact on their personal situation.
8.2 Support switching supplier or payment method
Only a few participants felt they would benefit from support switching supplier or payment methods. Most participants felt that if they wanted to switch supplier they would know to do so, either because they had done so before, or because they could ask family or friends to help them. Others were not interested in switching at all because they were happy with their supplier or payment methods. Therefore, this policy idea was not seen as particularly relevant to participants.
As noted in section 7.2 Taking action to improve home heating, there were also mixed views about the benefits of switching, with some feeling there may be hidden charges or that prices would increase over time.
8.3 Further help for those receiving help via Warmer Homes Scotland
Offering further support to those already receiving help via Warmer Homes Scotland was seen as a good idea in principal, but again participants generally assumed that they would not personally need this type of support. Even among those who had benefitted from financial support towards energy efficiency improvements in the past, there was not much interest in this policy idea, though they acknowledged that tailored support could be beneficial for others.
Perceived benefits of this approach were similar to those raised in relation to support with switching, for example providing help to people who may not know how to look for it or access it online. Reference was made to elderly people or even some young people benefitting from this, as there was a view that they may be less well informed about these kinds of issues.
No major concerns were voiced, although it was mentioned that it would be important to get consent from people before signing them up to extra support services.
8.4 Referral for a benefits check
No participants said they would use the referral for a benefits check. Several did, however, feel that this could be a good idea for people that were unaware of what benefits they were entitled to. There was a perception that benefits could be overlooked due to lack of awareness, meaning that those eligible for them might miss out:
“Nobody will tell you, ‘oh, maybe you should apply for this or maybe you should apply for that’. You have to find out that information yourself.”
Darren, 35+ no children, Social renter, Other urban, FP and EHR
“I've got a pal that is [in] constant bother, but […] he wouldn't know to get benefits anywhere like that.”
Matt, 35+ no children, Owner occupier, Large urban, FP and EHR
The sharing of personal details between Home Energy Scotland and other organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland or Social Security Scotland was not viewed as a significant concern, as long as consent was sought in advance and details were exchanged securely.
8.5 Further support to help make home improvements
Support to help make home improvements, including help with loft clearances, moving furniture or lifting flooring, was generally well received. A few participants said that they would make use of this service. Those who were particularly enthusiastic about this tended to have personal experience of the difficulties that come with getting this type of work done. For example, one participant had been putting off getting their boiler replaced because they did not want the hassle and inconvenience of getting the floor taken up:
“When they approached me about that, I said that I didn't want a new boiler because all of the upheaval, because I've got a wooden floor in the kitchen, and it's my responsibility then to get the slats uplifted, and I just don't want to be bothered with it.”
Lorraine, 35+ no children, Social renter, Large urban, EFP and EHR
Older people were thought to be likely to benefit from this kind of help, since they would be less physically able and may have less of a support network.
While this idea was generally supported, it was also questioned whether this was an action the Scottish Government needed to take, as companies carrying out insulation work might already take responsibility for moving furniture and other similar tasks.
8.6 Other suggestions for help from the Scottish Government
In terms of other ways the Scottish Government could help, a common theme was a desire for tighter caps on energy prices. Participants felt that fuel prices were continually increasing and this was a common cause of concern. There was also a perception that the energy industry should be encouraged to take greater advantage of Scotland’s renewable resources which could lead to savings for customers:
“You would have thought with all these solar panels and wind turbines the price of energy would go down instead”
Dean, 35+ no children, Owner occupier, Large urban, EFP and EHR
Among private tenants, there was a desire for more regulation of private landlords to ensure that they provide decent heating systems, and a desire on the part of social tenants to make housing associations and councils do more in general. There was a view that councils sometimes ‘cut corners’ when building and maintaining council houses, for example choosing the cheapest appliances to install which are likely to become faulty. This was described as a false economy, due to the cost of repairs, as well as creating hassle for tenants when things break.
Another suggestion was that the Scottish Government could do more to raise awareness of the help and support that is available, for example through advertising online or on television. At the same time, they stressed the importance of making clear that support was offered by the government or a neutral organisation, to reassure people that it was trustworthy.
“They need to make these organisations more known about and more available to people, and more aware of the help that's available”
Sonia, 35+ no children, Owner occupier, Other urban, FP
Finally, there was a belief that more support for those who were on low incomes, but not on benefits, would be helpful. Some participants who were currently in work and struggling financially felt they were worse off than those on benefits, as they received no financial support towards the costs of heating their homes.
“Just because somebody is working doesn’t mean they can afford everything. Especially families with children and there is only one parent that's working out of the two, it's a lot more difficult. I think the council should think about that as well, help people that need that bit of support.”
Lisa, Family with children 5 and under, Owner occupier, Other urban,
EFP and EHR
“Because you are not on benefits, you're paying full price for everything […] give the ones that are paying everything a helping hand as well”
Kimberley, Family with children 5 and under, Social renter, Large urban,
FP and EHR
“Make support available to more people. So, a higher cut off than just looking at benefits, or no cut off at all. No harm in turning around and saying available to everyone but on a sliding scale, based on income or similar”
Jenny, Family with children 5 and under, Owner occupier, Other urban, EFP and EHR
8.7 Summary of differences between groups
There were few differences in attitudes towards the policy ideas between different groups. Participants in households categorised as being in fuel poverty and those categorised as being in extreme fuel poverty often took the similar view that while they agreed that these policies should be implemented, they were not necessarily relevant to their situation.
A few of those aged 75 said they would be interested in help to minimise the disruption if they were getting work done. Among families with young children to whom an EHR applied, one person mentioned that the amount of time they spent looking after their children meant they had less time to sort out home improvements so the policy providing support for this would be particularly helpful.
Notably, working families had similar final messages for the Scottish Government: that people in work need more financial support to heat their homes, and that it was not just people on benefits who struggled to keep warm.
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