Lived experience of fuel poverty: research

Qualitative research into the lived experience of fuel poverty in Scotland.

Appendix F: Discussion guide: second interview

Home Heating Research

Draft Discussion Guide – Main Interview

Introduction (2 mins)

Aim: Explain the purpose of the research, cover practicalities (recording, can withdraw at any time, reassurances on anonymity etc), answer any questions.

  • Introduce self and Ipsos MORI
  • Remind them of the purpose of the research: As we spoke about on the phone, this research is looking at how people heat their homes and how affordable their energy bills are.
  • We are interviewing people across Scotland to help the Scottish Government understand the issues people face, and the types of support and advice it might be helpful for them to provide to the public.
  • This interview will build on some of the information you gave me when we last spoke. We will be producing a report based on our findings for the Scottish Government.
  • Explain that the interview will last 1.5 hours and we will give participant a £35 high street voucher as a thank you for taking part.
  • Provide reassurances of anonymity and confidentiality. Explain that no identifying information about individuals will be used in the reporting of the research.
  • Explain that participation in the research in entirely voluntary and if, at any time, they decide they no longer wish to take part, they can withdraw from the research and have their data deleted.
  • No right or wrong answers, just really keen to hear their views on a range of topics.
  • Request permission to record interview.

Note: refer back to relevant information we know from the sample/recruitment stage and the answers from the first interview, so that each discussion is shaped around participants’ own circumstances. Some questions may not be necessary depending on how much detail they provided in the first interview, so adapt this guide as needed.

Context (3 mins)

Aim: To get and initial feel for what life is like for participants and re-cap some of the information covered on the phone, set the scene and put them at ease.

  • Thanks again for taking part. Just to re-cap what we spoke about on the phone, you’ve lived here [X] years, you live with [X family members] and you use mainly [appliance] to heat your home – is that right?
  • And how have you been since we last spoke?
  • Before we talk more about your heating, it would be nice for me to hear a little but more about you if that’s okay. So, if you were to sum up what life is like for you at the moment in a few words, how would you describe it? [Probe:
    • Is there anything in particular that worries or annoys you at the moment? [Probe for reasons, note whether bills/money come up spontaneously]

Heating the home (25mins)

Aim: To understand more about how they heat their home and any issues / problems / concerns with their current set-up. Gauge how much participants think about fuel use, and what is shaping their decisions on how they use their heating.

Perceptions of warmth and comfort

Now turning to your home…

  • Firstly, how comfortable you would say you are in your home at the moment? [Probe]
    • What do you think of when you think about being comfortable in your home?
    • How much does it matter to you that your home feels comfortable?
  • In terms of the warmth of your home, what is a ‘comfortable’ level of heat or cold for you?
    • Does that change at all e.g. time of day/year or room in house?
  • You said when we last spoke that you felt the home was usually [warm enough/not warm enough/too warm] – can you tell me a bit more about that?
    • [If not already covered]
    • Are there ever times that you feel your home is not warm enough or too warm?
    • Can you describe what that is like? [probe for perceptions of what is warm enough and what is not]
    • How does that affect you or others in your household?
  • Is there anything else that makes your home feel comfortable besides the temperature? [Probe for examples]

Heating use / regime (including walk around)

  • Do you have your diary task to hand? If so, can you talk me through what you noted?
  • [Explore participant’s reflections on how they use their heating]
  • [If not covered already or task not completed, probe for each:]
  • Please can you talk me through
    • What heating appliances you use on a typical day?

(Distinguish between central heating and ad-hoc/portable heating devices if relevant)

  • When you use your heating / your routine on a normal day?
  • When you use your heating more?
  • Whether you heat some rooms more / more often than others?
  • Whether you change how much you use your heating on different days?
  • How you control the temperature / any issues / difficulties

If they have central heating:

  • Do you use a timer for your central hearing?
  • Do you ever change the programme, and if so how often?
  • Do you use a thermostat?

[If participant or other HH member has disability / long term health condition, fully explore how health needs shape their use of heating and energy:

  • When we first spoke you mentioned you had a disability of health condition expected to last at least 12 months. Does your disability/health condition have an impact on the way you use heat in your home? In what ways? (Probe on extent of use of heating and patterns of use) And how do you feel about that?
  • And does your disability/health condition have an impact on any other energy you use in your home, for example any electricity? (Probe for any equipment they rely on and impact on energy use) And how do you feel about that?

[Ask participants if they’d be happy to show you their boiler / heaters / controls if they are comfortable with that. emphasise that this is not essential, and keep in mind it may be difficult for those with mobility issues]

  • Would you mind showing me your boiler / heater / heating controls and talking me through how you use them?
  • How do you decide when to turn on your heating and how warm it should be? [Probe for what factors are shaping decision making: – convenience, necessity, tariff structure etc.]
  • [If not mentioned already] Do you try to limit how much you use your heating to save on bills? Probe:
    • If yes, how big of a problem is this?
    • Is this getting easier or harder to manage? Why?
  • What do you do when it gets really cold? (Prompt if necessary: Keep the heating on longer / put on extra clothes / go to bed early / go cold )
  • Has the way you use your heating changed compared to what you used to do? [Explore fully and reasons for any changes in appliance, temperature or routine]

Ventilation and energy efficiency

  • Do you dry clothing inside? And does that work okay? [Fully explore]
  • How do you air your home? [check whether use fans, trickle vents, open windows]
  • Have you ever had any issues with condensation, damp or mould, draughts, stuffy / stale air, or pollution from outside e.g. exhaust fumes? How do you deal with that? [Fully explore]
  • Generally, how good is your home at retaining heat?
    • [Explore positives / negatives of their home]
    • Have you done anything to make your home better at retaining heat? [e.g. double glazing, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation]
    • [If yes]: Why and what was the effect of making changes?
    • [If no]: Why not? Would you consider doing this in the future? [Probe for reasons / barriers]

Overall issues

  • Thinking about what we’ve discussed so far, is there anything you’d like to change about your heating and the way it works in your home? Probe:
    • How about the type of fuel you use?
    • Your heating system/appliances?
    • How well your home retains heat?
    • The way you pay for your heating?
    • [xplore any issues fully inc. impact on all members of the household]

Smart meters (5mins) [only for participants with one]

Aim: Explore how they are using their smart meter; awareness of different ways in which they can/could be used; and perceptions of usefulness/impact.

Turning now to your smart meter….

  • Is your smart meter for gas and electricity? [it could be for both, but need to focus on main heating fuel]
  • Did it come with a device or an app for your phone that shows you how much energy you’re using?
    • [Clarify here because whether they use this is the ‘consumption monitoring unit’ part of the system and is important in terms of potential benefits]
  • As far as you know, what do you think smart meters are for?
  • Can you tell me a bit more about how you use your Smart Meter system in relation to your gas / electricity? [Make sure focus is on main heating fuel]
    • Why did you decide to get one?
    • How long have you had it?
    • Have you had any issues with it?
    • Did you get any information from your supplier when you got it? [if yes, what?]
    • How often, if at all, do you look at it?
    • What difference does it make to how you manage your energy use?
  • Has it changed things for you?
    • [Probe fully – have they used the monitoring device / app info and have they adjusted any behaviours off the back of it?]
  • Has it helped you to see how much fuel is used by different appliances?

[Probe: If they haven’t used it that way, why not?]

[If not covered] Has it reduced your bills? And if so, by how much?

Household bills and expenses (15mins)

Aim: Explore levels of concerns over bills and energy bills; how they deal with energy bills; and whether they have changed over time. Gauge levels of financial resilience. Understand awareness of / views on payment methods, and possible benefits of changing payment method.

Now, I would like to spend a bit of time talking about your household bills and expenses, including the cost of heating your home.

  • Generally, how easy or difficult do you find it to pay your household bills each month?
  • Does paying the bills ever worry you? [Probe fully for reasons why]
  • Are there any bills you often find it hard to pay? Probe for examples
    • If yes: which bills do you prioritise paying if you feel you can’t manage them all?

Now thinking about your fuel bills specifically:

  • You currently pay [By direct debit, on receipt of bills, using prepayment/pas as you go etc – check] is that correct?
  • Why did you choose to pay for your bills in this way? [Probe fully for reasons and motivations]

If using a prepayment meter

  • Do you buy the same amount every week or do you just wait till it runs out?
  • Do you rely on the emergency credit?
  • Do you ever run out? How often?
  • How long do you go without when it does?
  • How do you get it back on?

If using solid fuel:

  • How often do you purchase fuel (e.g. bags of coal)?
  • Do you buy fuel as you need it, or buy the same amount of fuel each week so that you are stockpiling in the summer to get through the winter?

Ask all:

  • How easy or difficult do you find it to afford the cost of heating your home?

If find it easy:

  • What do you think makes it easy for you to afford heating costs? Anything else?

If find it difficult:

  • Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
  • What do you think are the main reasons that you face difficulties in affording to heat your home? (Probe in relation to cost, wages, energy efficiency)
  • What effect has that had on you/ others in your household?

Probe in relation to:

  • Having to go without heating (lower temperature or less time)
  • Not able to pay bills / debt
  • Having to cut back in other areas
  • Physical impacts / health
  • Emotional / mental impacts
  • Social impacts (e.g. going out more, not having people over)
    • Have you done anything about these difficulties?
    • If so, what have you done? What sort of difference did this make?

Ask all:

  • Are you aware of any ways in which you could pay less for your heating? [Probe for details]
  • Do you think that you are currently on the best deal with your provider(s) / supplier or do you feel that you are paying too much for fuel? And what makes you say that?
  • Have you considered changing the way you pay for your heating? [Probe for reasons / awareness of potential savings]
  • All who are not on direct debit: Do you think that you would save money if you were to pay by direct debit? Why/why not? If they say yes, ask them explicitly why they don’t go on to direct debit.
  • Scenario 1: If you were to get an unexpected fuel bill of £50, what would you do?
  • Scenario 2: If your fuel bill went down by £10 a week, what would you do? What difference would this make to you?
  • Scenario 3: If your main heating system broke (e.g. your boiler or main heaters), what would you do? [Probe for impact this would have financially, how they would manage the situation]

Taking action (15mins)

Aim: Gauge awareness and views on possible actions they could take to tackle home energy issues. Understand barriers to looking into better deals / moving to Direct Debit, improving heating system or energy efficiency etc.

  • [Re-cap on anything they have already mentioned they do to keep the home warm / manage fuel bills]
  • There are a number of actions people might take to find the most suitable way of paying for heating their homes. I am interested in finding out if you have ever taken, or thought about taking, these actions – some may or may not be relevant to you. I’ll read out each one and ask you about them, and they are also written on this card. [use Showcard]:
    • Changed how I pay for heating fuel (e.g. from pre-payment meter to Direct Debit)
    • Changed supplier
    • Changed tariff / deal with my supplier
    • Had insulation or double glazing fitted to help keep heat in
    • Bought more energy efficient appliances
    • Changed heating system (e.g. from electric to gas boiler)
    • Changed fuel type (e.g. from coal to gas)
    • Got a smart meter
    • Contacted my landlord about my heating or the warmth of my home
  • [For each]:
    • Have you done or thought about doing this?
    • [If done it] Why? Sources of info? What changed / what was the impact?
    • [If not done it and relevant] Why not?
    • Would you consider trying this? Why / why not?
    • [Probe fully for reasons (esp. barriers to making changes / seeking info) and level of appeal of each]
  • Are any of these of particular interest to you? And why?
  • Do you think you’ll look into this / these?
  • How / who would you contact?
  • What would make it easier for you to do this / [Preferred actions]?

If they have switched suppliers [if not covered already]:

  • How many times have you switched suppliers?
  • Did you do the switch yourself or did you use an online switching service provider? [probe for details]
  • Have you ever been forced to switch because a supplier went bust?
  • Do they feel your fuel bills were lower as a result or did they go up?

Seeking advice and support (10mins)

Aim: Understand experiences of seeking advice; whether they’ve already received some help (e.g. through HEEPS); awareness and knowledge of what’s available; and confidence seeking help.

Moving on, I would like to talk about some of the advice and support that it available for people that require help to keep their home warm.

  • What kind of advice and support do you think is out there generally – to help people keep their homes warm? Where have you heard about this?
  • Have you ever received any financial support to help with or paying your bills? For example the Warm Home Discount Scheme? If yes probe for details.
  • Have you ever received any financial support to help install or replace heating in the home or to provide insulation? If yes probe for name of the scheme of for details of what it involved
  • [If yes to either]: Why did you choose to go down this route?
    • What was the outcome? / was it helpful?
  • [IF NOT]. There are different types of financial support available to help people insulate their homes, depending on each individual’s circumstances. Would you welcome this type of financial support?
    • Probe for reasons why/why not
    • What if this meant you experienced some disruption with work being carried out in your home, would that make a difference to how you feel?
  • Apart from anything we have already discussed, have you ever contacted anyone about keeping your home warm or about energy bills? If yes who did you contact?
  • What about the following sources of information? [Show sortcards] Have you made use of any of these? [if not mentioned yet]:
    • Home Energy Scotland
    • Energy Savings Trust
    • Local energy advice centre
    • Energy Action Scotland
    • Citizens Advice
    • Your fuel supplier (e.g. Scottish Power)
    • Family or friends
    • Your landlord or housing association (if renting)
    • Another source not listed here
  • [If they have sought advice]: Why did you choose to go down this route?
    • What was the outcome? / was it helpful?
    • Is there a way this advice service could be improved?
  • [If they haven’t sought advice]: Why do you think you’ve never looked for this kind of advice? [Probe to understand any barriers]
  • If you needed support or advice in future about heating your home, what kind of advice or support would be the most helpful to you? Probe
    • Advice/ guidance on finding the best deal or on changing providers
    • Advice/ guidance on budgeting
    • Advice/ guidance on using heating efficiently
    • Advice/ guidance on accessing financial support
    • Advice/ guidance on accessing technical support
    • Any other types?
  • And who would you be most likely to contact for that support or advice?
    [Ask to sort cards – according to which they might use the most for information and support in the future]
    • Can you tell me why you’re more likely to use these? [Probe]
    • And least likely to use these? [probe for reasons and levels of trust]

Policy ideas (15mins)

Aim: Test reactions to policy ideas; explore participants views on what would make the biggest difference to them.

In this final section, I’d like to ask for you views on some ideas which the Scottish Government are thinking about doing to make sure everyone in Scotland is able to keep their homes as warm as they need to in Winter.

  • Use sortcards to present c.4 policy ideas [read each in full and then provide as prompt]

1. Switching services

2. Further support for people already receiving help through programmes likes Warmer Homes Scotland

3. Benefits check

4. Further support to help make improvements to your home

For each:

  • Please can you take a look at each and tell me how helpful you would find that? [probe for reasons]
    • Perceived pros and cons
  • Can you arrange of them in order of preference?
  • Which one would make the biggest difference to you?
  • What else do you think the Scottish Government could do to help people?
  • Finally, if you had one message for the Scottish Government about home energy, what would it be?

Thank you very much for taking part.

  • Would you like to receive a summary of the findings from this research project? [to be posted out in Spring 2020]
  • And would you be interested in taking part in any similar research projects in the future? [explain, this is not a commitment to do so, but if they opt in they may be contacted about taking part in other projects]
  • [provide incentive and home energy scotland leaflet]
  • We can pass on your details to Home Energy Scotland if you would like them to call you back?
  • Would that be of interest?
  • If yes, read full statement:

If you would like us to, we can pass your information to Home Energy Scotland, who will contact you to provide energy advice.

They are able to advise on saving energy, reducing bills and keeping warm, and whether you may be eligible for any extra support.

This will include a Home Energy Check, and may include an assessment for financial help to make energy-saving improvements to the home.

If Home Energy Scotland is not able to make contact by phone after 3 attempts, an email or letter will be sent to you instead.

[NB: the Home Energy Check is usually done over the phone – a series of questions designed to how people can save energy and reduce bills]

Are you happy for us to pass on your name and contact details?


And would you like us to pass them a few notes about the main issues you are having?

if yes, sum up issues

Preferred method of contact?

email, phone or letter

Best time to call?

Would you like the caller to use a memorable word or phrase when they contact you?


Any special communication needs?

[stop recording]

Thank and close



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