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Highland councillors to further consider region's stark fuel poverty figures after being warned of looming catastrophe

By Val Sweeney

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Council leader Margaret Davidson.
Council leader Margaret Davidson.

Highland councillors are to consider what can be done for those most in need of help to keep warm over the winter months.

It follows stark figures presented to members of the corporate resources committee illustrating the deeply concerning level of fuel poverty and tough financial decisions being faced by residents throughout Highland, particularly those in rural areas.

The data for Highland shows:

• 33 per cent of households in Highland are experiencing fuel poverty compared to the national average of 24 per cent.

• 22 per cent of households in Highland are facing extreme fuel poverty, which is nearly double the national average, at 12 per cent.

The figures are measured by the 2021 Scottish House Condition report.

Energy Action Scotland stated that households living "off the gas grid" – those who are not connected to the national mains gas network – often struggle most to cope with fuel costs with analysis showing many areas with the highest rate of households living off the grid, such as the Highlands and Islands, also had the largest number in fuel poverty.

In addition, while the average UK dual fuel bill comes to £1138, Scottish consumers face an average bill of £1759 and for those with electricity only, the figure rises further still to £2276.

Last month, the Scottish Government announced a £41 million Winter Support Fund for low-income families which includes £10 million nationally to help those struggling to pay their fuel bills.

Highland Council is set to receive an allocation from this fund in order to mitigate the fuel challenges faced by Highland residents.

Highland Council leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson, said: "In the light of the clear concerns expressed by members across the chamber, and noting that a report on poverty was already scheduled to come to council in December, I will be asking for a recommendation to come forward to that meeting.

"That will commit us to funding to assist those in Highland that are most in need of help to keep warm over the winter months.

"By then I also hope we will have a clearer picture of the Scottish Budget and how we can balance the books next year. Then we can then decide what can be afforded."

She continued: "The current situation clearly demonstrates the pressing need for a UK wide, strategic review of our energy supply, market and infrastructure."

The welfare support team provides free, impartial and confidential support on fuel insecurity concerns, in addition to offering assistance to check eligibility and submit a claim for all benefits and entitlements.

Getting in touch with the welfare support team is the first step to maximising your potential income and managing your money well. They can be contacted by phone on 0800 090 1004 or by emailing welfare.support@highland.gov.uk.

In addition, Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has a specialist team of energy advisors who can undertake a range of energy checks which are designed to help with reducing domestic fuel bills. CAB Energy Advisers can be contacted on 01463 237664.

Funding is also available from the Scottish Government, Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and Warm Homes Fund for those looking to implement energy efficiency measures within their home such as adding loft, cavity or external wall insulation to reduce heat loss and save on annual energy bills. Enquire through www.highland.gov.uk/energyefficientscotland for more information.

Warm home discounts equivalent to £140 per annum off household energy bills are available from some energy suppliers for those on low income. Households are advised to contact their energy supplier to check eligibility.

Council finance papers reveal stark reality of fuel poverty

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