Briefing on Local Authorities and Tackling Fuel Poverty

The 32 local authorities in Scotland play an important part in realising the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle fuel poverty. Many of their obligations and activities affect the main fuel poverty drivers of poor energy efficiency of the home, low disposable income, high energy costs and how energy is used in the home.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 set a statutory duty upon the Scottish Government to eradicate fuel poverty, as far as reasonably practicable, by the now expired target date of November 2016. As part of that Act (section 89) local authorities were obligated to produce local strategies setting out the measures they would put in place to ensure ‘so far as reasonably practicable, that persons do not live in fuel poverty’.

Local Housing Strategies

These local strategies, now known as Local Housing Strategies (LHS) describe each local authority’s plans for housing and housing-related services in its area over a period of 5 years. The plans cover details on fuel poverty, the integration of health and social care, house conditions and homelessness. Each LHS explains how each local authority will meet strategic housing targets and national outcomes, as well as how they support local needs.

Fuel poverty is a key part of the LHS and each local council is required to define the extent and nature of fuel poverty in their area and its causes as they may be different from national trends[1]. Some local authorities are developing fuel poverty strategies in addition to their LHS.

Standards

Local authorities that hold housing stock and so are social sector landlords, have obligations under the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) and prior to that, the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS). In addition, EESSH places a duty on social landlords to encourage their tenants to reduce their energy consumption. EESSH-obligated landlords must report annually on progress to the Scottish Housing Regulator. EESSH is to be met by 2020, although a review this year may set further targets beyond that date.

Fuel Poverty Programmes

In their LHS, councils report on the amount of funding received via the Scottish Government-funded Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland: Area Based Schemes (HEEPS: ABS), and how this funding is used to meet delivery targets. Local authorities will also have responsibilities under Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP) which will launch in 2018. This is a 15 to 20 year programme which will offer support to improve energy efficiency ratings of all domestic and non-domestic buildings in Scotland. Currently SEEP pilots are helping local authorities develop new and innovative ways of working, in order to prepare for the launch of SEEP. A second phase of SEEP pilots was announced in February 2017, with funding of £11 million.

Some local authorities are setting up their own Energy Service Companies (ESCOs). Local initiatives such as this have the support of the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, which recommended an action for local government in its 2016 report[2]. This was to support initiatives like “Our Power” in order to provide decent energy prices for pre-payment customers.

Poverty

Local authorities are also responsible for the delivery of the Scottish Welfare Fund. Crisis grants are claimed by people in fuel poverty to pay for unexpected heating bills. Local authorities also have the consent of the Scottish Government to direct these monies to areas in more need than others therefore local authorities are assisting in the mitigation of welfare reform at a local level.

Local authorities also have a role in income maximisation; in fact they have statutory duties on the provision of advice support under Financial Inclusion strategies or under Tackling Poverty strategies. A number of local authorities have developed Tackling Poverty strategies.

The Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group recommended that local government, alongside the Scottish Government, should “establish robust and transparent scrutiny arrangements to oversee progress of the new fuel poverty strategy so as to enhance trust and credibility”. It went on to recommend that local authorities had a statutory role in that strategy, with targets for requirements to mark progress[3].

Health and Social Care

Local authorities are one of the statutory bodies referred to in the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 which put in place the framework for the integration of health and social care. The creation of Integration Joint Boards allowed local authorities to come together with the NHS to manage health and social care services in each area, via a Strategic Commissioning Plan.

Some local authorities make commitments in their LHS , such as working with colleagues in health and social care to enable people to stay in their homes as long as possible, rather than being admitted to hospital. “Delayed discharges” is an example of where the links with health and social care could benefit those in fuel poverty. The aim of this would be avoiding people being kept in hospital longer and then being sent back to a cold home. There is also great potential for a more holistic approach to fuel poverty in this area.

The Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group had a number of recommendations on the role that local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) could play by developing local wellbeing partnerships, with local authorities, CPPs and Health & Social Care Partnerships working together.

May 2017

For further information on this briefing or on fuel poverty in Scotland, please contact Helen Melone, Research, Information and Project Officer, Energy Action Scotland at helen.melone@eas.org.uk or call 0141 226 3064.

 

[1] Sustainable Housing Advice Note: Fuel Poverty and Climate Change, Scottish Government, 2016

[2] An Action Plan to Deliver Affordable Warmth in Rural Scotland proposed by the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, 2016

[3] A Scotland without fuel poverty is a fairer Scotland: Four steps to achieving sustainable, affordable and attainable warmth and energy use for all, Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group, 2016