Tackling fuel poverty in Scotland: a strategic approach

The fuel poverty strategy sets out policies and proposals for national government, local authorities and third sector partners to help meet the targets set out in the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Act 2019.

Chapter 8 – Partnership Working

While many households in fuel poverty may not seek advice directly from HES, they may present themselves to and be identified in a number of settings in health, social care and community sectors. We will ensure that we work closely with individuals and organisations that are already trusted by individuals in fuel poverty.

HES already work with a range of partners to raise awareness of their service and ensure households in fuel poverty can be easily referred for further support. HES provide a secure online portal through which partners can quickly and easily make referrals and track the outcomes for their clients. This has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when they have received unprecedented volumes of referrals by this route.

Working in partnership with health

The links between long term health conditions, poor health and wellbeing, and living in a cold, damp home are well recognised. Cold homes are more likely to be damp and this encourages the growth of mould which can cause and aggravate respiratory illnesses.

While the evidence base related to fuel poverty and health is still emerging, studies suggest that living in poorly heated homes may be linked to both mental and physical health impacts. It can also lead to delayed recovery from illness and delayed discharge from hospital. The stigma associated with living in a cold home may lead to social isolation. Evidence also suggests that those most vulnerable to the effects of low indoor temperatures include young children, the elderly, and people with existing physical and mental health conditions.

While the evidence base on health benefits of energy efficiency and fuel poverty interventions is still emerging, there is some evidence to suggest that interventions improving domestic conditions related to warmth and damp may help improve both physical and mental health outcomes for those vulnerable groups.

However, there remain a number of gaps in the evidence around energy efficiency interventions and health. As noted in our Health Impact Assessment, there is the potential for energy efficiency improvements to have negative impacts on homes. Some energy efficiency improvements can lead to poor ventilation which can have a negative impact on the air quality in the home. This, and associated issues of condensation and damp, can have adverse effects on health, particularly for those with existing respiratory health conditions.

Around half of the households we spoke to as part of our Lived Experience Research had experienced damp, condensation or mould in rooms that were not being heated as much as the main living space. Problems with damp, condensation or mould growth were more prevalent among social renters compared to private renters and homeowners, and among those on the lowest incomes compared with those on higher incomes.

"Behind that couch there will be damp spores. When I turn the mattress every week it's damp underneath, and I scrub it with Domestos, and if you put anything on the bed you guarantee once you take it out you have to throw it away, everything is covered in mould. Even the side of the wardrobe there is mould growing up the side of the wall, we can't stop it. "

Darren, 35+ no children, Social renter, Other urban/non-remote rural, FP and EHR

The Evidence Review highlighted that, in relation to condensation specifically, households often have little knowledge of how to reduce condensation using their heating and ventilation.

Additional research is required to better understand the mechanism through which the health benefits of energy efficiency improvements are realised.

Research by Citizens Advice Scotland recommended that those working in areas such as health and care need to be involved in tackling fuel poverty. Building strong partnerships with the health and social care sector is therefore crucial to tackling fuel poverty.

At a national level, we will undertake further engagement with Public Health Scotland to establish links to the most appropriate contacts within the NHS to take forward the fuel poverty agenda within the wider health and social care sector. This will help to ensure that individuals that are vulnerable to the effects of living in a cold home and experiencing fuel poverty are identified and signposted to advice and support.

Community Link Workers

The Scottish Government has a commitment to deliver 250 Community Link Workers over the life of the Parliament. A Community Link Worker is a generalist practitioner based in or aligned to a GP practice or Cluster who works directly with patients to help them navigate and engage with wider services, including energy advice services. Their purpose is to improve patient health and well-being, reduce pressure on general practice, and tackle health inequalities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Link Workers have continued to provide a vital role in supporting patients with mental health, emotional support, benefits, housing information, social isolation and anxiety.

Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships

We are also providing £3. 17 million to fund dedicated welfare rights advisors in GP practices in some of the most deprived communities. These advisors will help to address growing mental health concerns caused by money and housing insecurity.

150 GP Practices will be able to refer patients directly to an in-house welfare rights officer for advice on increasing income, social security eligibility, debt resolution, housing, and employability issues, as well as helping with representation at tribunals.

HES are working closely with the Improvement Service to ensure that advisers are able to refer patients for further support to reduce energy bills and make homes warmer and cheaper to heat.

HES advice centres also regularly partner with GP practices, clinics and child vaccination clinics to raise awareness of the advice that they provide. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, HES were unable to do this as normal in 2020 and, in an effort to adapt their approach, partnered with NHS Lothian to provide energy advice at the pilot 'drive-through' flu vaccination clinics in Edinburgh.

Working in partnership with local authorities

Local authorities are also key partners in our efforts to eradicate fuel poverty. As set out in Chapter 2, local authorities are responsible for identifying how fuel poverty will be tackled at a local level and are required to set out the nature and scale of fuel poverty in their area and the particular causes of this fuel poverty within their Local Housing Strategies, which must be produced every 3 years.

HES already work in partnership with many local authorities services in Scotland. This ensures that HES advisors are able to refer households directly for support from services in their local area.

Local authorities are encouraged to adopt a holistic approach in their administration of the Scottish Welfare Fund. Scottish Welfare Fund staff should be aware of other sources of support and advice and are actively encouraged to refer applicants to income maximisation and welfare benefits teams as well as any other local services which may be able to assist the applicant, including energy advice services.

While there is currently no formal partnership between the Scottish Welfare Fund and HES at a national level, as outlined above local authorities are encouraged to maintain a holistic approach and to actively refer to other local services and sources of support. This may include HES and local fuel poverty services.

In 2020-21, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we allocated considerable additional resource to local authorities to tackle both fuel and food insecurity through a cash-first approach, including:

  • an additional £22 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund
  • £8 million for Discretionary Housing Payments
  • £30 million to tackle food insecurity
  • £40 million to tackle financial insecurity.

Working in partnership with housing providers

Housing providers can play a pivotal role in helping to identify and tackle fuel poverty. Households in the rented sector are more likely to be in fuel poverty with similar rates across the housing association (39%), local authority (36%), and private rented sectors (36%). In comparison, 12% of those with a mortgage are assessed to be fuel poor.

Chart showing 2019 fuel poverty rates by type of housing tenure

We need to ensure that tenants can access advice on all four drivers of fuel poverty: poor energy efficiency of the home; low household incomes; high energy prices; and how energy is used in the home. Many social landlords already offer advice services to their tenants on welfare benefits and money management and some also provide energy advice.

A report by the Scottish Housing Regulator[19] highlighted that, the majority of social renters who had faced difficulties affording their rent cited the cost of heating the home as a factor, with one third stating it was the most important factor. Tenants who are able to afford their energy bills may therefore be less likely to struggle with rent and other household bills. Furthermore, when a tenant is able to afford to heat their home properly, it is less likely to develop dampness which leads to costly repair issues.

As part of our efforts to support households struggling with their energy costs during the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided £2. 1 million in 2020-21 to the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to set up the Social Housing Fuel Support Fund. This provided practical support to social housing tenants to manage or reduce their energy costs. In total, over 25 Registered Social Landlords received funding delivering a range of activities including providing fuel vouchers, direct payments, energy efficient appliances, and winter assistance packs.

Through the Winter Support Fund, we will provide a further £2. 1 million to the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in 2021-22 so that the Social Housing Fuel Support Fund is able to operate again this winter.

Working in partnership with the third sector

There are a variety of organisations across the third sector who provide support and advice to those in fuel poverty. Some of these organisations are focused on the needs of particular groups, such as lone parents or refugees. Working with organisations with this type of expert knowledge will allow us to better understand, the challenges facing specific communities. This will ensure that we can provide more tailored advice and information that is relevant to people's lives.

Both our Lived Experience Research and our Evidence Review highlighted the interactions between fuel poverty and poor housing, debt, and low incomes. We therefore need to ensure that we work with national and local organisations that provide housing, money, and welfare advice.

We also need to ensure that our partnership working with the third sector includes organisations which provide material support, such as food banks, fuel banks and school uniform banks, so that households can access support targeted at reducing bills in the longer term.

Through their partnership with Community Food Initiative North East (CFINE), as part of the COVID-19 response agreed with the Scottish Government, HES advisers contacted CFINE clients to arrange food parcel deliveries and offer them HES support, along with access to a range of local services such as money and benefits advice.

HES has built partnerships with community-based and third sector organisations to support them to apply for funding from the Scottish Government's Climate Challenge Fund and Ofgem's Energy Redress Fund. These projects are often centred on advice to households to reduce energy use, transition to renewable sources of energy, and address fuel poverty. By working with community led organisations to inform the design and delivery of their projects, HES builds partnerships that enable direct referral of householders to and from HES and ensures that the advice provided to householders is consistent and joined-up.

Examples include Greener Kirkcaldy (who lead the cohort of community energy advice projects that operates under contract to Fife Council); regional equalities councils and other BAME community organisations to support energy advice in community languages to households who don't speak or read English fluently. In 2020-21, these partnerships led to £2. 9 million of funding from the Ofgem Energy Redress Scheme going to a variety Scottish projects.

In response to COVID-19, we provided funding to both the Fuel Bank Foundation and Advice Direct Scotland which allowed them to expand their partner networks in Scotland. This has not only enabled more households at risk of self-disconnection or self-rationing to receive support but has also helped to enhance the level of support that advice providers are able to offer to their clients.

Working in partnership with Trade Unions

Our Lived Experience Research, highlighted a belief among fuel poor households that we spoke to that, more support for those who were on low incomes, but not on benefits, would be helpful.

"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

This echoes the findings of the Evidence Review which noted that households in low paid work often assumed that support for energy efficiency measures was only targeted at people not in work.

We need to ensure that those in work but in fuel poverty are aware of the support that is available to them and how to access it. We are aware that as well as providing employment advice and representation, the support that Trade Unions provide to their members can often include welfare support. Working in partnership with Trade Unions could therefore help us to better promote the support that is available to those in work and in fuel poverty. We will therefore explore how we can take more targeted awareness raising action by working in partnership with Trade Unions.

Working in partnership with Social Security Scotland

We recognise that households applying for benefits from Social Security Scotland are likely to be on a low income or have a long term health condition or disability, factors which increase the likelihood that the household will be in fuel poverty. We therefore want to ensure that we work closely with Social Security Scotland so that when people apply for benefits they are not only made aware of further benefit entitlements but also of the support available to make homes warmer and reduce energy bills. As part of this approach, we included details of the support available from HES in the award letters for Child Winter Heating Assistance.

HES are also working with Social Security Scotland as part of the roll out of Child Disability Assistance to ensure advisors are able to identify clients likely to be in fuel poverty and refer on to HES for further assistance. Taking a pilot approach, HES will seek to develop a strong partnership approach that can then be scaled up as further benefits are delivered by Social Security Scotland.

SG Action - We will continue to work together to develop effective referral routes between Home Energy Scotland and Social Security Scotland and share best practice to ensure fuel poor households are getting full access to the support to which they may be entitled

Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel

The Fuel Poverty Act established a statutory Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel which will replace the previous non-statutory Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel. This new body will provide independent scrutiny of the progress we make towards our targets.

The role of the statutory Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel also includes encouraging and fostering a partnership approach to tackling fuel poverty across the public, private and third sectors, including all of the types of organisations referenced above. It will also include working collaboratively with the Poverty and Inequality Commission to inform advice to the Scottish Government on implementation of the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.


Email: FuelPovertyStrategy@gov.scot

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