Tackling fuel poverty in Fife

The new Back on Track scheme is the latest council project to tackle fuel poverty.
The new Back on Track scheme is the latest council project to tackle fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty is on the rise in Fife. According to the most recent Scottish Government statistics, 40 per cent of homes in Fife are in fuel poverty, with nine per cent of those in extreme fuel poverty.

The numbers cover the period from 2013 to 2015, and the former marks a four per cent increase on the figure from the year before, covering 2012 to 2014.

It is an issue Fife Council are looking to address. Its latest scheme, Back on Track, is an extension of a programme which helped council tenants.

The scheme is being targeted at specific areas of Fife and aims to offer advice and support to those living in fuel poverty – including private tentants and owner occupiers.

It is hoped this project will reduce the number of households in fuel poverty and increase the number receiving home energy advice.

To help Fife Council offer this service, it is working alongside Cosy Kingdom, a county-wide energy advice service. Cosy Kingdom combines the efforts of Greener Kirkcaldy, St Andrews Environmental Network and Citizen’s Advice & Rights Fife in a bid to help residents throughout the Kingdom reduce their energy use and keep warm.

Bruce McCall, project manager at Greener Kirkcaldy, said the main aim of Back on Track is to “encourage home owners and landlords to make their homes more energy efficient whilst supporting support tennants in private lets”.

For the scheme, Cosy Kingdom will offer general energy and debt advice and even a means tested handy service to install simple energy efficent measures where necessary – installing helpful items like LED lightbulbs and thermal curtains.

Cosy Kingdom helped and supported over 1400 households last year but for Cosy Kingdom the main objective is still trying to get the word out there.

Bruce said: “Over the last two years we’ve increased our home visits two fold, but that figure also takes into account how Cosy Kingdom has grown.

“We still get quite a few people saying ‘we didn’t know you were here’ or ‘I didn’t know those services were available’. Also a lot of people do not realise our services are free.”

Back on Track is just one scheme Fife Council is running in a bid to reduce fuel poverty in the Kingdom.

Greig Henderson, service manager at Fife Council, said: “Part of our commitment to a fairer Fife is to work with our partners to eradicate fuel poverty in Fife.

“We are investing in bringing all of our homes across the Kingdom to meet Energy Efficiency Standards for Social Housing (EESSH) which is a set standard for housing. We are ahead of our targets on this work and hope to have all homes up to EESSH standard by 2019.

“Fuel poverty is at the heart of our business and we have trained our frontline staff in how to identify households who are struggling and refer them to our partners Cosy Kingdom and Home Energy Scotland for help and support.

“We are also in the process of rolling out further information on council vans on how to seek assistance.”

But Fife Council is not alone in its attempt to reduce fuel poverty in the county. Another organisation that is taking the fight to fuel poverty is the Glenrothes Area Residents Federation (GARF).

In September 2016 the group started helping people in the area deal with their fuel bills, after receiving a grant from Fife Council.

It uses the funding to provide one-off payments to people struggling to cope with their energy bills.

Ian Robertson, chair of GARF, said he had noticed fuel poverty was on the rise, adding: “It was rife over Christmas and New Year”.

He said: “We were out on New Year’s Eve trying to get gas and electricity for people because they have nothing.

“We’re finding people sat without gas and electricity for months.

“The amount of fuel poverty out there is unbelievable. You see the situation out there and it is shocking. We weren’t expecting so many people to come forward. You have people with no gas or electricity and no money to top it up.

“One person stopped being a carer and had their benefits cut. He had nothing for eight weeks. Goodness knows what it is like throughout Fife.”

Ian claims many of the people GARF has supported so far have turned to the organisation for financial support after having their benefits cut.

While the Scottish Government statistics for Fife show 56 per cent of the households in fuel poverty belong to ‘older’ residents, he says a majority of the people who have sought help from GARF have been younger.

Ian believes there are two main issues stopping people coming forward to ask for help: the stigma attached and people not being aware of the help available.

“There will be people out there right now with nothing,” he said, “but some of them are too proud to ask.

“Some of these people have hundreds of pounds of debt on the metre – they just don’t have the money.

“Another problem is lack of communication. People don’t know how we can help them and they don’t know who to contact. There’s also a fear as well with private let tenants if they complain the landlord will kick them out.

“I think this is why they aren’t coming forward. There must be a lot of private tenants out there in fuel poverty.”

You can contact Cosy Kingdom for advice or support in relation to your home energy call 01592858458.