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

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 25 October 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Gillian Martin MSP, Minister for Energy and the Environment
  • 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)
  • Head of the Heat Strategy and Policy Unit 

Items and actions

Opening remarks

The minister opened the meeting and made the following points:

  • the minister thanked members for their commitment so far in progressing the actions and provided an update on her engagement with the UK Government, including setting out her intentions for further engagement ahead of the UK Government’s Autumn Statement

Agenda Item 1: Support for alternative fuel users

  • Home Energy Scotland (HES) provided overview of the actions they were leading, and highlighted the importance of the group in facilitating partnership working
  • HES is looking to continue good discussions with the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA) and explore ways in which it can help UKIFDA customers
  • the aim is for HES to be helpful rather than looking to take away customers from UKIFDA members
  • Advice Direct Scotland (ADS) is also working well with UKIFDA and is receiving more applications for advice from the gypsy traveller community, but there is still more work to do with park homes in relation to the Home Heating Support Fund
  • ADS highlighted that there are some difficulties in accessing rural consumers when the main point of contact is a trade association
  • detriment is still an issue in rural communities – we need to make sure that alternative fuel users are not having to pay considerable amounts for more fuel
  • ADS highlighted their work with renewable energy companies who are still looking to distribute funds from projects to local communities
  • the minister advised that she would highlight the work of ADS when speaking to suppliers in relation to community renewable projects
  • the minister would like to pull a package together which sets out the support readily available from partners that MSPs can refer constituents to
  • concerns were highlighted around the challenges facing off-grid consumers in terms of gas and electricity prices and calls were made for a social tariff to include off-grid consumers
  • the minister agreed with the level of importance attached to this issue and advised she will raise it at her meeting with Ofgem in November
  • there is lots of good work being done around affordability but maintenance costs are a big issue
  • lots of low income rural households don’t have efficiency support and repair and replacement schemes are not the same for alternative fuel users
  • today is about dealing with the lack of equity in off-gas communities that is why we also need to think about what people need now rather than just focus on the transition to net zero
  • as well as there being a need for support such as a social tariff to reduce bills, we need to look at ways to grow rural economies such as reaping the potential of private sector investment
  • at present, there are public sector frameworks set by organisations such as the Scottish Environmental Protections Agency (SEPA) and Nature Scot which act as barriers

Agenda item 2: Energy efficiency in rural housing

  • HES are working with the Scottish Confederation of Park Home Residents Associations (SCOPHRA) and scoping challenges affecting residents in park home housing including circulating surveys to residents, park home associations and site owners
  • the aim is to establish the findings of the surveys within the next 2-3 weeks and provide an update to this group
  • Consumer Scotland are keen to work with HES and SCOPHRA on the findings of these surveys
  • the group recognised that there is a lot of work to be done in this area and many of the changes required are structural ones
  • SCOPHRA advised that calls have already been made on the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to make the necessary legislative changes
  • Energy Action Scotland raised the recent Energy Performance Certificate consultation and the risk of it under-prioritising rural consumers given many live in colder climates, (and they offered to pass on any relevant information to the Scottish Government)
  • the Energy Efficiency in Social Housing standard and the Heat in Buildings Bill were also raised as potentially having an impact on rural communities
  • the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) asked for confirmation that the issue around domestic consumers on a non-domestic supply was being raised with the UK Government through the Non-Domestic Energy Consumers Working Group and officials confirmed it was

Agenda item 3: Smart meter rollout

The minister departed the meeting and chairing responsibilities moved to the Scottish Government's Head of the Heat Strategy and Consumer Policy Unit

  • Smart Energy GB flagged that they have found the group very useful in helping build relationships
  • they have been working with the Scottish Government and the UK Government around the integration of messaging on the benefits of smart meters and flagged that week commending 30 October is Smart Meter Awareness Week which will focus on myth-busting
  • ADS advised that they are now referring cases on smart meters to Smart Energy GB as well as suppliers and advised that guidance on the Radio Teleswitch System (RTS) switch-off is still to be issued by Ofgem
  • examples were raised of issues arising in more remote areas surrounding the RTS switch-off
  • the recent paper by Consumer Scotland relating to the RTS switch-off was highlighted as very effective
  • concerns were raised around the cost to homeowners that the RTS switch-off will cause and that hasn’t been addressed
  • an example of this is the electrical changes associated with smart meter installations

Agenda item 4: Outcomes and closing remarks

  • the issue around the disparity for rural consumers who live close to community renewable projects was raised again 
  • energy prices in rural areas are causing depopulation and this has to be dealt with
  • Consumer Scotland provided an update on its off-grid consumers expert working group and advised that any legacy issues from this group could potentially be considered by them and the first meeting is due to take place in December
  • an issue was raised regarding high electricity costs for park home owners who buy their energy from site owners who benefit from a day and night tariff but don’t pass it on to residents (this is particularly an issue given many park home residents are vulnerable consumers)
  • the meeting closed with the chair thanking everyone for their time and contributions to the group before advising that officials will be in touch following the Autumn Statement to discuss the date of the next meeting
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