Energy: Vulnerable Energy Consumers Short-Life Working Group minutes - 3 August 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 3rd August 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Advice Direct Scotland (ADS) 
  • Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) 
  • Consumer Scotland 
  • Energy Action Scotland (EAS) 
  • The Poverty Alliance 
  • Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel 
  • Fuel Bank Foundation
  • Energy UK
  • Inclusion Scotland 
  • Age Scotland 
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) 
  • Council of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) 
  • The Wise Group 
  • Scottish Care 
  • Home Energy Scotland
  • Deputy Director, Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulation 


Items and actions

Agenda item 1: Defining consumer vulnerability

  • there is a lot of ongoing work on defining vulnerability and data sharing between central and devolved governments and industry
  • correct terminology should be “health and impairment” to include non-medical / treatable issues
  • investment in deep community outreach is key to identify and reach the most vulnerable and is more suitable to overcome engagement barriers in comparison to digital campaigns
  • deep engagement unlocks side issues such as fuel poverty and employability but it is very resource intense
  • the Wise Group will share the in-depth evaluation and impacts of the exercise once ready
  • Home Energy Scotland (HES) offers the Energycarer service for households that struggle to engage online or over the phone - it is very time intensive despite achieving really strong outcomes
  • work is needed to conceptualise the relationship between health and disability in relation to energy costs given the wide variation in needs
  • we need to make sure that the focus, when dealing with the newly-vulnerable, isn’t narrowed down to just the energy sphere
  • general consensus that “vulnerability” as a term isn’t right (Fuel Bank Foundation has set up a working group to discuss consistency – others welcome to join)
  • there is stigma around vulnerability and the intersection with low income and disability must be taken into consideration – the Poverty Alliance published research on this and welcomes discussion

Agenda item 2: Social tariffs

  • the UK Government may yet move away from the idea of a social tariff, and it is almost certainly too late to develop one by April 2024
  • consumers need to get through the coming winter, so we shouldn’t be distracted by the benefits a social tariff may deliver in future
  • the lack of support from the UK Government, the end of Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) and historically high legacy debt remain the real current issues
  • Energy UK are focusing on advocacy work around targeted support for this winter – how to put political pressure on government about why energy bills are still important, and why this winter will still be difficult for many households (further engagement with attendees welcome)
  • Consumer Scotland is conducting analysis on social tariff target groups, mechanisms, and funding options and will share with the group once complete
  • important not to conflate income with other aspects of vulnerability such as disabilities, and to identify priorities for disabled people  
  • the poverty rate for a household containing a disabled adult or child is high but lags behind lone parents and BAME households (however, once additional costs are taken into account almost half of all households containing a disabled person are in poverty)

Agenda item 3: Existing support measures

  • terminology is key – many people don’t know what energy efficiency, retrofit etc means
  • terms such as "energy saving home improvements" can be more accessible – open to other suggestions, while further insights on public attitudes towards energy efficiency would be welcome
  • advice services website analytics indicate what the most common public phrasing terms are in relation to energy efficiency and support
  • the Scottish Government’s Energy Perfomance Certificate (EPC) consultation is now live, and the Scottish Government will also consult on the Heat in Buildings Bill proposals soon and could use the expertise of the group
  • Consumer Scotland will be able to share research on consumer attitudes around home heating, renewable technologies and behavioural information soon
  • we need to be careful  when focussing on bill related consumption information as this is closer to what people can afford rather than what their safe level of consumption is 
  • the Fuel Poverty Act already recognises that some people need to live in homes that are warmer for longer, but the quantum of that additional consumption and associated cost is not well understood
  • an example of why we should be careful is that Ofgem is lowering the consumption values in the energy price cap (this is based on the reduced consumption resulting from high energy prices) which could normalise people not achieving safe levels of consumption

Agenda item 4: Access to advice services

  • Disability Information Scotland and Glasgow Disability Alliance offer holistic advice including on fuel poverty and social security benefits
  • Advice Direct Scotland (ADS), Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and HES will get together soon to establish a practical approach to this objective – there is an existing data sharing agreement with Energy Savings Trust, and extensive works with Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country – however money is limited so need to work smarter
  • advice services are stretched to breaking point, we need to build more supporting capacity first and define the problem, rather than make a new access point such as a digital portal
  • a new digital portal needs a lot of budget and might be a longer-term plan
  • a landing page that sets out in consistent language what organisations do – Scottish Government could host and this landing page could be replicated on advice organisations’ websites
  • CAS will share research on understanding impacts, what motivates consumers to get advice, financial gains etc.
  • Consumer Scotland’s energy tracker collects data on consumer awareness relating to Scottish Government and UK Government schemes 
  • Energy Action Scotland's (EAS) website provides a post code look up for energy advice - it should always pull up HES / ADS for all post codes alongside other local advice from CABs / HA / Charities 
  • Age Scotland carried out research (a national energy survey of 1,000 over 50s in Scotland) on trusted organisations and initial priority points of contact for older households seeking assistance with energy efficiency and debt advice related to energy costs in  last year
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