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

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 3 October 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Gillian Martin MSP, Minister for Energy and the Environment
  • 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 (HES)
  • Deputy Director for Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulations 

Items and actions

Opening remarks 

The minister opened the meeting and made the following points:

  • welcomed participants to the third meeting of the working group and provided an overview of Ofgem's new energy price cap (from October) and her recent engagement with her UK Government counterpart
  • advised that Scottish Government officials have circulated to members a draft letter she has written to the UK Government and inviting comment
  • the minister will be sending a second letter to the UK Government with specific asks around immediate winter energy bills support for consumers after the final meetings of the Rural Energy Consumers Short-Life Working Group and the Non-Domestic Energy Consumers Short-Life Working Group later this month
  • the minister will be meeting Ofgem in November and will feed back any relevant outcomes to the group
  • these meetings have been of great value in wider  policy work, and Scottish Government officials are keen to draw upon the participants’ expertise in future (to help anlyse the impacts of the UK Government's Autumn Statement and to feed into the rool out of the Scottish Government's Heat in Building Strategy

Agenda item 1: Defining consumer vulnerability

  • there is value in looking at investment in community outreach programmes to identify those vulnerable consumers that don’t claim the support they are entitled to
  • the Wise Group’s holistic approach pilot scheme, funded through SG’s Fuel Insecurity Fund, focuses on all aspects of personal circumstances and highlights the importance of creating visibility between referral partners, other key stakeholders and customers
  • it is also useful to be flexible and identify trends where people, such as those  with medical issues, need extra support (for example, with emptying their loft to enable loft insulation to be fitted)
  • the vulnerability space should also include those that are digitally excluded and should offer offline routes 
  • the minister asked about services’ flexibility in having the most up to date information on clients’ eligibility for various consumer support schemes - there is discussion among stakeholders around the consumers’ level of awareness of other agencies through referral routes and mentoring programmes
  • many longstanding issues were exacerbated by the crisis and we need a collective approach across different sectors such as government, Ofgem and advice services through forums such as the Energy Consumers Network
  • important to encourage policymakers to join things up and focus on vulnerable consumers holistically and not only in terms of energy

Agenda item 2: Social tariffs

  • the minister thanked everyone for their feedback on the draft of her letter to the UK Government on a social tariff that was circulated to members 
  • according to the Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel, a social tariff:
    • has to go beyond regulated fuels to benefit people in rural remote and island communities
    • needs to replace the Warm Homes Discount (WHD) covering standing charges and consumption discount, and those in greatest need should have the discount automatically applied
    • should offer cheaper energy instead of a bank payment to avoid existing energy debt repayment
    • should be targeted more widely than means-tested benefits and the WHD
    • should be based on need rather than a fixed amount
    • should be funded by general taxation
    • might need to reconsider use of winter weather payments for funding
  • Energy UK recently published their report on the future of the energy retail market which includes a section on a 'social discount' for energy bills
  • some participants advised that they would be happy to jointly support the Scottish Government's calls on the UK Government for a social tariff

Agenda item 3: Existing support measures

  • the minister sought attendees’ views on any potential amendments to existing UK Government energy bills support schemes, and what the Scittish Government could implement with its devoleved powers (for example England and Wales offer support through the Warm Hubs, although this doesn’t help with peoples’ bills directly)
  • Fuel Insecurity Fund applications through the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) close in early October and funds tend to run out quickly through flat rate payments, especially in rural areas
  • this year there has been much higher Fuel Insecurity Fund uptake and even though there are funds still available, it is a only temporary fix for people in need
  • it is necessary to target some of the resources and work with disablility organisations or those representing people with long term conditions
  • the minister asked if a variable council tax reduction could help
  • another option would be to raise awareness of the Scottish Welfare Fund and how it can help with energy costs
  • the minister thanked all participants for their contributions, and advised that Scottsh Government officials would be in touch with members after the UK Government's Autumn Statement

 Agenda Item 4: Access to advice services

(The Scottish Government's Deputy Director for Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulations  took over as chair from this point forward) 

  • a new, complex digital portal might not be the best option, it might be more appropriate to improve existing routes as a one-stop shop and use common language
  • it also has to be all-inclusive, especially with local organisations, so time and opportunities are not wasted
  • Energy Action Scotland’s postcode checker provides information, and certain Citizens Advice Bureaus and housing associations have energy expertise, even though some services are temporary rather than longer term
  • Glasgow Caledonian University is producing a directory of fuel poverty /community level energy activity
  • it is crucial that services provide immediate access and advice on bespoke heating systems
  • this group has helped strengthen existing relationships between stakeholders and create engagement between organisations 
  • the chair asked how to get advice to hard to reach people such as gypsy travellers and the response was there are lots of challenges - there are a few pilots with the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council for advice provision but there is more tailored work that needs to be done

Closing remarks 

The Scottish Government's Deputy Director for Heat in Buildings Policy and Regulation thanked everyone for for their contributions and advised that Scottish Government officials would contact them on an ad hoc basis in relation to the Heat in Buildings Bill consultation 

Action points

  • Consumer Scotland to share outcomes of data analysis on cost of living crisis, including extra costs for consumers with health conditions
  • Scottish Government officials to draft a communications strategy focusing on social tariffs ahead of the UK Government's Autumn Statement
  • Poverty Alliance will share their position on “Warm Hubs”
  • Advice Direct Scotland to provide an update in regard to engagement with energy suppliers
  • Consumer Scotland to share research on council tax reduction take-up
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