Thousands of people in Scotland are struggling to keep up with their energy bills, new research has revealed.
And experts are warning that as well as tackling fuel poverty, policymakers must take action on the low cost of gas compared to more sustainable ways to heat homes as the climate crisis worsens.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) released its report which showed that 12 per cent of consumers couldn’t afford their energy bills.
While prices increased and families became even more strapped for cash, a growing number of households were forced to leave the Big Six suppliers in favour of smaller, cheaper companies.
The charity surveyed 3,505 people as part of its Market Pulse report which tracked consumer attitudes over three years.
The data revealed a fall in people using electricity to heat their homes as more switched to gas because it tends to be cheaper – a concerning trend for the sector as pressure mounts to cut climate emissions.
CAS Markets spokesperson Dr Jamie Stewart said the report highlights a “key divide in the nation”, with a significant number of people continuing to struggle to pay energy bills.
He said: “We strongly believe that more needs to be done to ensure that the essential service of energy is affordable for everyone in Scotland.
“That affordability question appears to be driving some consumers to switch from a traditional Big Six supplier to smaller, newer companies. However this comes against a backdrop of suppliers failing across the UK, with twelve companies failing between June 2018 to June 2019, affecting over one million consumers across the UK.
“The small fall in people using electricity and the increase in gas usage should also be considered carefully by policymakers. As mains gas remains the cheapest way to heat homes for most people, policy makers will have to make tough decisions about how we decarbonise household heating and how to support people with the associated costs.”
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CAS also expressed concerns that only a quarter of consumers were enrolled on the Priority Service Register despite nearly half being eligible.
The scheme, overseen by Ofgem, is designed to support vulnerable customers and ensure people with special requirements have accommodations in place with their energy supplier when they require them. These can include braille bills, priority in a power cut, meter relocation for better access and quarterly meter readings. It’s hoped the initiative will protect the wellbeing of consumers as well as ensuring those with special requirements don’t pay extra as a result of their circumstances.
Less than a year ago an independent investigation found that the UK energy industry needs to take urgent action to better support vulnerable customers and help them avoid falling behind on household bills.
Unaffordable energy bills like those found by CAS are likely to hit disabled people the most. James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said last year: “Many disabled people have no choice but to consume more energy because of their condition, often resulting in sky-high energy bills.
“It’s time that the government, regulators and energy suppliers recognise the needs of disabled people and work together to improve the energy market.”
In 2019 CAS helped consumers in Scotland save around £1.3m, or £232 each, on their energy bills.