Energy: Rural Energy Consumers Short-Life Working Group minutes - August 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 16 August 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Consumer Scotland 
  • Advice Direct Scotland (ADS) 
  • Sutherland Fuel Poverty Action Group
  • Trading Standards Scotland
  • Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust
  • Scotland's Rural and Islands Housing Associations Forum
  • Consumer Scotland
  • Scottish Federation of Park Home Residents Association
  • Smart Energy GB
  • Energy Action Scotland
  • Home Energy Scotland (HES)
  • Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel
  • Sustainability First
  • Fuel Bank Foundation
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA)
  • The UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA)
  • The Wise Group
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)
  • Deputy Director for Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulation

Items and actions

Opening remarks

The meeting was chaired by the Scottish Government's Deputy Director for Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulation, who opened the meeting by making the following points:  

  • welcomed attendees, stating that today's meeting is an opportunity to discuss progress made on the actions agreed at the ministerial meeting of the group on 28 June 2023 
  • there is some overlap with the other working groups (the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Short-Life Working Group and the Non Domestric Energy Consumers Working Group) and acknowledged that some members are progressing more than one action, for which the Scottish Government is grateful
  • flagged that the energy consumers team are available between now and the final meeting of the group to provide support to anybody who is having problems with progressing actions
  • the Minister for Energy and the Environment is due to meet with Ofgem later in September and is also hoping to meet with Amanda Solloway, the UK Government Minister for Energy Consumers and Affordbility ahead of the UK Government's Autumn Statement
  • it is also the minister's intention to write to the UK Government ahead of the Autumn Statement and we will share a draft of the letter with the group for members' thoughts

Agenda item 1: Support for alternative fuel users

  • Home Energy Scotland (HES) and the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA) are due to meet on Monday 21 August
  • HES are keen to explore the potential of joined up campaign activity but flagged that there would need to be caution taken to ensure alternative fuel users aren’t confused by too much information at the same time
  • UKIFDA will also be meeting with Advice Direct Scotland (ADS) to discuss opportunities to collaborate
  • ADS are keen that alternative fuel users are aware of the Fuel Insecurity Fund and the Home Heating Support Fund and want to know who the key stakeholders are for them to liaise with
  • ADS are keen for work to be done with helping alternative fuel users know  what help is available and how to access it
  • the Fuel Bank Foundation has worked to ensure all Scottish partners in its network are mindful of its heat fund when advising off-grid users seeking help
  • Consumer Scotland are soon to launch a new alternative fuel user working group which will be informed by research conducted to gather a clearer picture around what the journey to net zero will look like for alternative fuel users
  • the group will consist of members from across the consumer landscape and will look at the challenges faced by alternative fuel users and update the collective understanding established by Consumer Scotand
  • Consumer Scotland is almost ready to launch the group and are looking to meet with stakeholders soon to discuss contributions
  • the chair advised this group will also be helpful in informing the Scottish Government’s Heat in Buildings strategy work 
  • the focus of Consumer Scotland's group will be to look at heating oil and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) users and other issues (there is potential scope to revise the group's remit if it continues)
  • there are challenges facing economy 7 meter users who need advice and support around changing tariffs. Although this group may not be in the alternative fuel using bracket, we shouldn’t be losing sight of them
  • the Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel was highlighted and an offer made for their assistance with data gathering as well as helping with access to a wider academic network
  • the key factor driving fuel poverty in remote rural areas is the coupled price of gas and electricity 
  • the number of electricity off-grid users is higher in the Highlands and Islands
  • a social tariff needs to be applied to all off-gas consumers across Scotland
  • the chair highlighted the UK Government’s review on rebalancing electricity and gas prices
  • the chair highlighted that as we progress towards net zero, the situation can change

Agenda item 2: Energy efficiency in rural housing 

  • the chair provided overview of progress on the actions being led by the Scottish Government and highlighted that the Scottish Government will be writing to the UK Government concerning domestic consumers on a non-domestic supply
  • HES and the Scottish Confederation of Park Home Residents Associations (SCOPHRA) are meeting on Monday to discuss support on energy efficiency measures for park home owners and will be focusing on areas where action can be taken  
  • SCOPHRA are going to circulate a questionnaire to its members to inform decisions around where further support and advice can be deployed
  • HES will focus on behavioural change
  • SCOPHRA flagged that there are issues aligned with making energy efficiency improvements as it is sometimes the park owner rather than residents who are able to make decisions
  • SCOPHRA is also working with Consumer Scotland around energy efficiency
  • the chair asked SCOPHRA and HES to help make sure the Scottish Government's Heat in Buildings strategy team are aware of the park home owner/resident issues to inform the rollout of the Heat in Buildings strategy
  • Highlands and Islands Enetrprise (HIE) have been liaising with the Chambers of Commerce around supply chain issues and are also looking to make connections with Business Gateway
  • HIE flagged the challenges that the energy supply chain has (such as labour shortages and energy costs issues) and supply chain mapping is likely to be one of the best routes to tackle this issue
  • Energy Action Scotland (EAS) flagged the issue around licencing of park homes and whether provision of energy efficiency measures can be a condition when licences are being considered
  • SCOPHRA are campaigning around the licencing of park homes and raising awareness around residents’ rights
  • a key factor in the challenges is that not all local authorities deal with the issue in the same way – some are through planning departments and others through environmental standards
  • the chair offered a meeting with park home officials and then potentially Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Government's Minister for Zero Carbon Buidlings, Active Travel and Tenants' Rights
  • SCOPHRA have already written to the Scottish Government's Housing Minister, Paul Maclennan on this issue

Agenda item 3: Increasing smart meter uptake

  • Smart Energy GB met with ADS and the Scottish Government on 14 August 2023 and have agreed on ways to work collaboratively to highlight the benefits of smart meters to consumers
  • ADS is maintaining pressure with energy suppliers around trials in Highlands and Islands to increase uptake
  • need to bear in mind that the Radio Teleswitch System (RTS) switch off is an industry issue which Energy UK is leading on
  • Fuel Bank Foundation are in the process of setting up a workshop with energy suppliers and looking for them to share best practice around consumers who are rationing or self-disconnecting
  • Energy UK offered help to get better uptake from energy suppliers
  • smart meters are currently opt-in and there is concern around the retirement of some tariffs
  • consumers are unclear as to what will happen for those who are lacking coverage
  • there is a need to clarify what the default position is (and whether there will be any detriment) for those who don’t move to smart metering
  • Scotland is disproportionately affected by the RTS switch off - only 28% of households in the Highlands and Islands have a smart meter (there is a also a need to clarify what will happen to those on tariffs used for storage heaters)

Agenda item 4: Any other business

  • need to consider the big issues around energy costs for community facilities such as town halls
  • the link to energy costs and depopulation that is helping inform the rural plan is welcome
  • need to be mindful that areas of depopulation also coincide with poor or no digital connectivity
  • the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) will send on any points emerging from Energy Forum and Highlands and Islands housing group meetings later in the week
  • there is lack of clarity around what protection is in place for the most vulnerable in the event of a heating system failure (these people are at greater risk of cutting off the things they need the most in this scenario)
  • HES will look to get feedback from customers around smart meters not working with the tariffs they use
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