More than one in three people in Scotland find energy bills unaffordable, according to new polling for Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) by YouGov.
The research found 36 per cent of people couldn’t afford their fuel bills. Of these, 80 per cent cited rising energy costs as a reason, with 65 per cent saying the rising cost of living was a problem. Meanwhile, 40 per cent said low incomes was an underlying problem, with 24 per cent stating their home being hard to heat was a factor.
The polling comes as people face a ‘perfect storm’ this winter, with rising energy bills following the increase of the energy price cap, the crisis in the energy market seeing some suppliers go out of business, and falling incomes for people on Universal Credit.
CAS is today launching its Big Energy Saving Winter campaign encouraging people to get advice to tackle rising bills.
CAS Fair Markets spokesperson Kate Morrison said:
“The fact that one in three people find their energy bills unaffordable is unacceptable, and what this research shows is that the underlying reasons can be varied and complex. From rising inflation and increased bills, to low incomes and homes that are hard to heat, people are struggling this winter – and these problems are likely to last well into 2022.
“The crisis in the energy market also means that some routes to lower bills simply aren’t available. For example, switching supplier will likely just lead people to a higher tariff.
“However, our message today is that the CAB network is here to help. We can check if you are entitled to any benefits or grants that you’re not currently claiming; we can talk to your energy company and re-structure any debt repayments you may have; and we can look at how better insulation can help you save money – and the planet at the same time!
“The Citizens Advice network helped over 171,000 people in Scotland during the pandemic and unlocked around £147 million for those clients. Among those who sought our advice on fuel bills, the ones who saw a gain were on average £272 better off after talking to us.
“So you don’t have to feel powerless about rising energy bills this winter. The Citizens Advice network is here to support you. And remember our advice is free, confidential and impartial."
Pete McGinnie is 45 and lives in Edinburgh. He worked for many years in a call centre, before having to retire due to ill health. For the last few years he has been living on disability benefits and has often found it difficult to afford the cost of living, particularly the cost of domestic energy bills.
Last year Pete sought help from his local Citizens Advice Bureau, who told him he could claim the Warm Home Discount, a grant that cuts your fuel bill by £140 per year.
Pete McGinnie says:
“It’s difficult to get by on disability benefits. They’re really not enough to cover the basic costs of daily living, and they don’t go up when things like fuel bills go up.
“So for a while I was living day-to-day, using foodbanks and scraping together every penny. I was really struggling to cope. My house is not very good at retaining heat and I would often just stay in the one room, getting into bed during the daytime and just staying there, to try and save on my heating costs. But even then I was worried about how I was going to pay the bills. It was impacting my mental health and I went to some really dark places. Really dark.
“Then I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau in Edinburgh and they were brilliant. It was great just to have someone to talk to about it all, and my adviser was very sympathetic. I’d always been reluctant to ask for help because I felt like the advisers might criticise me, but it wasn’t like that at all. They were really friendly – but also very practical.
“They told me I was eligible for something called the Warm Home Discount. I had no idea about this, and it was such a weight off my mind. It made a big difference to me. I’m still finding it hard at times, but this help meant I was able to heat my home again, and didn’t feel I had to switch the lights off and sit in the dark. I only wish I had asked for their help sooner.
“But now the energy bills are really going up and I’m getting concerned again about how this is going to impact me. And I know a lot of other people are worried too.
“What I would say to people reading this who are struggling with bills is go and ask for help. The CAB won’t judge you or criticise you. They deal with cases like mine all the time, and they’re just keen to help you as they helped me.”
Harry Mayers, Head of Home Energy Scotland said:
“We are excited to once again be working with Citizens Advice Scotland on the Big Energy Saving Winter campaign, to help people save energy, cut their bills, and get the financial support they’re entitled to.
“With people spending more time at home over the past 18 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the amount of home energy used has been greater than ever. This, combined with energy price increases and the colder weather as we move into winter, demonstrates that there’s never been a more important time for people in Scotland to be aware of the help they could get.
“We can help people make their homes warmer and more energy efficient through access to grants and financial support like interest-free loans or Warmer Homes Scotland funding, which can help people on lower incomes to benefit from around £5000 in energy saving home improvements.
“Improving the energy efficiency of your home can make a big difference to energy bills and can help people become more resilient to future energy price rises. Home Energy Scotland advisors can help you discover how to stay warm and comfortable and manage your heating costs despite energy price increases. Give us a call free on 0808 808 2282 or visit homeenergyscotland.org to see how we can help.”