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4 June 2019, 06:00
Increasing numbers of housing association tenants are either in fuel poverty or at increased risk of it, a survey suggests.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) survey also found a rise in tenants disconnecting their power or heating due to lack of money.
A total of 52 members of the association responded to the poll.
Almost three quarters (73%) of the 37 which responded to a question on fuel poverty said there had been a rise in tenants either experiencing this or who are at risk of doing so.
Fuel poverty is defined as a household spending 10% of its net income on fuel costs after housing, care and childcare costs.
Respondents suggested the rise is particularly linked to welfare reform and the increasing cost of living, as well as energy price hikes and burgeoning fuel debt.
A majority of the 36 members who responded to a question on the rate of people disconnecting their own power or heating due to fuel poverty said this had increased.
A total of 22 members (61%) reported an increase, and most said this was due to welfare reform, while around a third blamed rising fuel costs.
A respondent from a housing association based in Fife and Central Scotland told researchers: "This [self disconnection] is something I see on almost a daily basis.
"It's a simple choice between heating and eating for a lot of tenants."
A staff member from an Argyll and Bute-based housing association told the SFHA: "A number of tenants have stopped using heating because they can't afford it...mostly it's because they don't want another bill to worry about, so they do without whenever possible."
Sally Thomas, SFHA chief executive, said: "It is shocking how many people are struggling to afford to heat their homes.
"The UK Government must take urgent action to raise social security in line with inflation to ensure no-one has to choose between heating or eating.
"Social landlords are working hard to make homes more energy efficient and reduce the cost of heating them for their tenants.
"However, in order to end fuel poverty, it is vital social landlords are eligible for grant assistance from the Scottish Government."
The findings follow a report from Citizens Advice Scotland which found one in 10 workers across Scotland were too short of money to be able to pay an energy bill at least once last year.
MSPs are due to vote on a new law to set targets to cut fuel poverty, at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.
The Stage 3 Proceedings: Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill proposes a target to cut the number of households affected by fuel poverty to 15% by 2030 and 5% by 2040.
Under new definitions proposed in the legislation, the fuel poverty rate in Scotland in 2017 would have been 23.7%, 583,000 homes.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "These findings are grossly misrepresented as recent national figures show that, across Scotland, fuel poverty rates of housing association and co-operative tenants have fallen 10% between 2014 and 2017.
"We don't want anyone to be in the position of disconnecting their heating.
"By 2021, we will have allocated over £1 billion to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency, making people's homes warmer and cheaper to heat.
"We continue to call on the UK Government and Ofgem to deliver the market reforms that we think are needed for Scotland's energy consumers."