The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy
The UNISON Scotland Response
- UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
members in the utilities and staff in the NHSiS, local
government and the voluntary sector who deal with the
consequences of fuel poverty on a daily basis.
- We welcome the publication of this strategy recognising
that this is the first government to seriously address
an issue which impacts on 30% of Scottish households.
- The measures in the strategy are also welcome with the
exception of New Housing Partnerships which are not supported
by UNISON. The strategy does however, only list existing
- The major weakness is the absence of formal co-ordination
of initiatives to ensure no household falls between the
- UNISON Scotland recommends the adoption of a comprehensive
fuel poverty strategy as set out in the recommendations
of the Keeping Scotland
Warm initiative jointly sponsored by UNISON. These
measures would raise housing standards and strengthen
energy efficiency measures in the public and private sector.
- The strategy would recognise the important role of local
authorities as housing providers and regulators as well
as strengthening the Home Energy Conservation Act.
- UNISON Scotland is highly critical of the role played
by the energy regulator Ofgem whose policies have done
little to eliminate fuel poverty. The mantra of price
competition has not helped disadvantaged customers as
illustrated by the recent wholesale closure of high street
shops by power companies.
1. This paper constitutes a response from UNISON Scotland
to the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy consultation draft. It deals
solely with the Scottish aspects of the policy as set out
in Chapter 7 of the consultation draft.
2. UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union. It is also
the largest trade union representing staff in the Scottish
utilities directly involved in providing energy. In addition
UNISON Scotland has many members in the NHSiS, local government
and the voluntary sector who deal with the consequences
of fuel poverty on a daily basis.
3. UNISON has played a significant role in recent years
at both Scottish and UK level in the campaign to eradicate
fuel poverty. We were joint sponsors of the Keeping
Scotland Warm programme which promoted a domestic
energy efficiency policy for Scotland. This year we have
jointly sponsored a video which highlights the startling
facts which surround fuel poverty today in Scotland.
4. These facts include 30% of Scottish households which
live in fuel poverty and the nine out of ten homes which
fall below current energy efficiency standards. Only a quarter
of Scotland's homes are adequately heated.
The Scottish Strategy
5. UNISON Scotland welcomes the publication of the Scottish
Strategy as part of this consultation paper. For far too
long the approach to fuel poverty as been dissipated amongst
several departments and agencies.
6. UNISON Scotland welcomes the acknowledgement of fuel
poverty and the use of accepted definitions of fuel poverty.
The aim of the strategy "to seek an end to fuel poverty"
is of course desirable.
7. UNISON Scotland has supported the Scottish Executive's
programme of central heating for pensioners and other vulnerable
households and the warm deal. This compliments the investment
programmes initiated by local authorities and housing associations
in their own housing stock. Some 51,000 local authority
dwellings will benefit from window replacement, central
heating or insulation improvements.
8. UNISON does not support the New Housing Partnerships
initiative. In our submission to the Scottish Executive
we highlighted the additional costs and the loss of democratic
accountability by handing over control of public housing
to financial institutions. We argued that the outstanding
debt could be taken over by central government freeing up
massive resources from rents to improve housing stock.
9. Other current programmes are listed in the strategy
including affordable warmth and the improvement and repairs
grant system. However, there are no targets for the total
number of households to be taken out of fuel poverty by
these programmes. In addition the strategy only lists existing
programmes, there are no new proposals.
10. There is a welcome recognition in the strategy of the
impact of wider social policy issues including low incomes
and the need to tackle health inequalities on the fuel poverty
issue. Again individual programmes are set out in the poverty
and social inclusion strategy Social Justice and
the approach to public health in the White Paper Towards
a Healthier Scotland. What is missing in this strategy
is the formal co-ordination of initiatives to enable the
more effective use of resources and to ensure that no household
falls between different programmes
A Comprehensive Fuel Poverty Strategy
11. In 2000 UNISON joined with Energy Action Scotland and
Transco to bring together a wide range of experts and interested
bodies to produce recommendations to eliminate fuel poverty
in Scotland. The blueprint Keeping
Scotland Warm (see attached) recognised that there
is no single cause of fuel poverty. The blueprint sets out
a range of proposals which include a role for the Scottish
Executive and UK government departments as well as Ofgem
and the domestic energy companies.
12. The key elements of Keeping
Scotland Warm include:
- Encouraging good practice and improved co-ordination
of existing initiative
- Legislation to raise the standard of new homes
- Strengthening the Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA
- Statutory energy efficiency measures in the private rented
- A new system of energy efficiency grants and heating
13. The strategy should also recognise the range of stakeholders
involved in the fuel poverty debate including the trade
unions. It also needs to recognise the impact of staffing
issues including a growing skills shortage in the industry
which could impact on certain programmes.
14. Local authorities have a key role in the strategy through
regulatory and inspection powers in setting obligations
and minimum standards on housing providers.
15 UNISON Scotland would therefore urge the Scottish Executive
to develop a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy including
the recommendations set out in Keeping
16 The industry regulator Ofgem has made a series of proposals
to increase and extend competition in the energy industry
in Scotland. In addition Ofgem seeks to assist the elimination
of fuel poverty through its Social Action Plan.
17. In a number of formal and informal responses UNISON
Scotland has been highly critical of the role of Ofgem in
this area. We do not believe that price competition alone
is sufficient to assist those in greatest need and the Social
Action Plans have generally been an inadequate response
to the problem. Recent research sponsored by UNISON has
demonstrated that privatisation has not been the cause of
lower electricity prices.
18. The promotion of competition has inevitably resulted
in all the domestic energy companies in Scotland chasing
high value customers who can pay by direct debit. This is
increasingly at the expense of services to disadvantaged
customers. The most recent example of this has been the
wholesale closure of High Street shops with their easy access
to advice and cash payment systems, firstly by Centrica
and more recently by ScottishPower.
19. A recent survey by the National Right to Fuel Campaign
confirms that competition has exacerbated long standing
inequalities between certain low income groups and more
affluent customers. The activities of doorstep sales staff
has been a significant problem and the survey concluded
that access to competitive energy markets was associated
with access to other related services, particularly financial
20. UNISON believes that government support for the mantra
of competition needs to be reviewed together with the Ofgem
terms of reference. Without this solutions will always seek
to work with "the grain of the market". What is
needed is direct intervention and incentives to encourage
21. UNISON Scotland believes there is much in the consultation
draft to be welcomed and we recognise that this is the first
government at UK and Scottish level to seriously address
this issue. Our main reservations are over the need for
a more co-ordinated and comprehensive approach. Without
such an approach the elimination of fuel poverty may remain
an elusive target.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835