Scottish Borders Council

Fuel poverty

The term fuel poverty refers to people who are unable to heat their homes to a satisfactory standard at a reasonable cost.

The Scottish Government defines fuel poverty as:

'A household is in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, it would be required to spend more than 10% of its (net) income (including Housing Benefit or Income Support for Mortgage Interest) on all household fuel use (i.e. not just that for heating and hot water).'

What causes fuel poverty?

There is more than one cause to fuel poverty and it usually results from a combination of low household income, high fuel costs and poor energy efficiency. Other factors that contribute are dampness, under-occupation of the property and individual circumstances.

What is the impact of fuel poverty?

Fuel poverty has a negative impact on individuals, households and communities and can cause misery, discomfort, ill health and debt. This can have a negative effect on quality of life and health. Cold and damp housing can aggravate existing health problems and being unable to heat homes adequately can lead to:

  • respiratory disease in the over 60s
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • hypothermia
  • raised blood pressure
  • increased deaths from coronary thrombosis and other circulatory problems
  • exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma to which children are at most risk
  • arthritis
  • mental health problems
  • lengthened recovery times
  • growth of fungi and dust mites, both being linked to asthma

Who are most vulnerable?

The most vulnerable include the very old, the very young and people with a disability or long-term illness. They tend to spend more time in the home and need to heat their homes for longer. 

What are the effects of fuel poverty?

The effects of fuel poverty can be both direct and indirect: 

  • if a higher proportion of income is being spent on fuel this can lead to less being spent on other parts of the family budget such as food
  • reduced participation in social and leisure activities
  • overcrowding if families congregate in heated areas of the home
  • school or work absences due to ill health.

What help is available?

There are a number of energy efficiency schemes which offer grants to eligible households. These include:

  • The Energy Assistance Package: gives you access to advice and support to help you increase your income, cut your fuel bills and make your home warmer and more comfortable.
  • Warm home discount scheme: replaces your energy supplier's low cost/social tariffs - for eligibility criteria contact your supplier.

Find out more

For more information about the above schemes, contact the Energy Saving Trust or our Home Energy Adviser.


Scottish Borders Council

Council Headquarters Newtown St. Boswells Melrose TD6 0SA

Tel: 0300 100 1800


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