With Spring in sight, over 600,000 households will be breathing a sigh of relief as they survive yet another winter in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is officially defined as a household which spends more than 10 per cent of its net income, after all housing costs are taken out, on heating the home and other fuel costs.
A recent report from the Scottish Government using information released by the Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) shows the number of households experiencing fuel poverty in Scotland has risen for the first time in five years, with new figures showing 619,000 households are impacted, an increase of 36,000 households during 2018. Although levels of extreme fuel poverty have been decreasing since 2013, the most recent data shows one in four households are still struggling with energy costs.
Wider poverty issues, rising energy prices and increased fuel debt are thought to be the main reasons behind the increase in fuel poverty, and it seems that social housing tenants are taking matters into their own hands. A survey by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) found that increasing numbers of tenants have been self-disconnecting their own power or heating due to fuel poverty, with 61 per cent of housing providers reporting incidences of this.
It’s heartening to hear that the Scottish government is due to publish a strategy later this year setting out actions to tackle all drivers of fuel poverty. The Scottish Fuel Poverty Bill seeks to achieve a target of no more than five per cent of households in Scotland in fuel poverty by 2040. However, while this is a noble and ambitious target and will make a long-term difference in tackling fuel poverty, it’s likely to take a while to implement.
In the meantime, what can asset managers of social housing be doing now to help tenants who suffer from fuel poverty?
While little can be done to influence fuel prices or incomes, efforts can be targeted towards supporting tenants to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and to find cheaper energy tariffs. Given that it’s estimated that poor insulation results in £1 out of every £3 spent heating UK homes being wasted, increasing fuel efficiency should be a significant focus.
Some forward thinking and innovative organisations are leading the way. For example, Renfrewshire Council has recently confirmed its intention to become carbon neutral by 2030. In order to achieve this, the council will be focusing heavily on improving the energy efficiency of the homes within its portfolio. Recently awarded £18 million by the UK government, 75 properties will be turned into low energy or EnerPHit homes which are low energy buildings that require very little energy to heat or cool and could see annual energy bills reduced to £150 for residents. Likewise, Edinburgh City Council has pledged to spend £2.5 billion building 10,000 new affordable, energy efficient homes over the next decade, with an ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030.
How can technology help?
For those wanting to increase fuel efficiency in their properties, our ground-breaking technology can help. We use data analytics, high-tech sensors and IoT technology which enable us to help managers of large property portfolios to monitor the environment of their assets remotely. This includes monitoring the temperature, enabling property owners to help identify and support vulnerable tenants who may be struggling with fuel poverty.
The IoT technology also gives tenants the opportunity to take responsibility for the condition of their properties by providing them with advice and understanding of how their homes are performing. This in turn provides peace of mind for tenants knowing properties are being monitored effectively and any potential problems, including those which may affect their health, will be picked up before they become significant issues. It also highlights the risks to their own health by taking such drastic measures as disconnecting their own power or heating.
Dane Ralston is the founder and managing director of iOpt.