There is a far higher price to pay for fuel poverty than expensive bills

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For a number of years it has been recognised that Western Isles’ residents struggle with fuel poverty.

Scotland defines fuel poverty as households that must spend 10% or more of their total income to have regular and adequate heating.

Information compiled about the problem in 2015 indicated that as many at 71% of homes in region were in fuel poverty.

A number of initiatives have taken place since then to bring this number down from a conference to discuss and prompt action to alleviate fuel poverty to making Island homes more energy efficient.

Money from Government to improve the energy efficiency in homes has been committed and moves to install smart meters, are just one of the many steps being taken to ensure that people are becoming educated in how and where in the home fuel is being used.

In January this year statistics on the issue revealed that the problem had been reduced somewhat in the Islands.

In 2018 fuel poverty in the Western Isles stands at 56%, however with the national average sitting at 31%, much remains to be done to help Islanders overcome this issue.

In March, as part of the effort to tackle this problem, there was the launch of a community-led cheaper electricity scheme.

Hebrides Energy, a not-for-profit community-interest company, is behind a scheme that aims to create a range of Hebridean electricity tariffs.

The range of tariffs caters for both standard and restricted meter customers, meaning that virtually every island home can opt to join.

Any profits will be plied back into the company’s mission to tackle fuel poverty.

At the launch of the scheme Hebrides Energy chairwoman Carola Bell said: “This is a first-of-its-kind venture for the islands and the team at Hebrides Energy has worked long and hard to get this far.

“People living on the edge of the UK have all too often been penalised by higher fuel prices and many aren’t aware that they are free to switch supplier.

“Hopefully this scheme will help to highlight this big industry issue and encourage people to think about how they pay for energy, where their money is going and how they can help their community move towards a more sustainable future.”

With clearly defined tariffs at competitive rates it is estimated that with this scheme some islanders could save as much as 20% on their electricity bills.

But while good work is being done to alleviate the problem some experts fear the fuel poverty gap ( households’ energy bills and what they can afford to pay) may be set to grow due to increases in fuel prices.

What is beyond doubt is the price we are paying for fuel - not in cash, but in lives.

Fuel poverty is a dangerous situation, particularly, if you are old and frail.

National statistics indicate that more than 3,000 people die each year in the UK because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes.

Living in cold conditions also increases the risk of general health problems, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as falls and injuries.

People experiencing fuel poverty can also struggle with poor mental health and this can also lead to social isolation.

See our story on one Islander’s fight to create a better deal for Stornoway gas customers: HERE