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Fuel Poverty Overview

For many people across Scotland, winter is a time when they worry most about being able to pay their fuel bills to keep warm at home. But even with a change of season, the problem doesn’t go away. Fuel poverty is an everyday reality for many low income and vulnerable households.

Who is Affected

Older people, those with disabilities or long term illnesses which keep them at home, low income families with young children, and others on a low income are all especially at risk of fuel poverty. 

Scale of the Problem

Around a million households in Scotland – more than 1 in 3 – are estimated by EAS to be in fuel poverty now. This means they are unable to afford adequate warmth in the home.  In turn, it is estimated that there are some 4.5 million fuel poor households in the UK.

The official figures for fuel poverty in Scotland are published as part of the Scottish House Condition Survey (Scottish Government) and the statistics from the latest survey report can be found here. The SHCS found that fuel poverty stood at 940,000 households (39.1%) in 2013.  The level of extreme fuel poverty recorded in 2013 was 252,000 households (10.5%).

For more figures, please see Statistics and Trends.


The usual definition of fuel poverty is the need to spend more than 10% of income to pay for fuel bills.  If over 20% is required, then this is termed as being in extreme fuel poverty.

Main Causes

The main causes are a combination of poor energy efficiency of the dwelling, low disposable household income and the high price of domestic fuel.

The previous Progress Update on the Fuel Poverty Statement (Scottish Government, 25 November 2010) states that for every 5% increase in energy prices then as many as 46,000 households in Scotland (2%) are pushed into fuel poverty, all else being equal.

Impact of Fuel Poverty

The consequences are misery, discomfort, ill health and debt.  Living in a cold, damp environment can also exacerbate health problems such as asthma and heart conditions. Often people struggling to pay their bills ration their use of energy, perhaps just heating one room or making the choice between cooking a hot meal and turning on a heater. Using appliances such as washing machines and heating water for baths or showers can be a worry too. 

Solutions and Responsibilities for Action

Fuel poverty is recognised by government at all levels and a number of measures are in place to address it. For example, the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 requires the Scottish Government to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland, as far as is practicable, by 2016. Local authorities also contribute to meeting this statutory duty.

Of the three main policy areas affecting fuel poverty, two of them ie household income and energy regulation, are matters reserved to the UK Government, while energy efficiency is a matter devolved to the Scottish Government. The EU also has a role in issuing directives that affect, for example, energy performance and consumer regulation.

As a consequence, there is a range of legislation, policy and schemes in operation at European, UK, Scottish and local levels to address fuel poverty.