THE Scottish Government has come under fire for its "feeble, inadequate and namby-pamby" approach to tackling fuel poverty by the leading expert who first coined the phrase.

Dr Brenda Boardman criticised the Government for failing to back up its "weasel words" with actions as it emerged 800,000 Scots families are now in fuel poverty.

Over the next few years tens of thousands more are expected to be dragged into fuel poverty, the term used when a household has to spend more than 10% of its income on energy bills.

Loading article content

Dr Boardman, whose 1991 book Fuel Poverty first used the term, hit out ahead of a meeting in Edinburgh today on the Government's strategy to improve the energy efficiency of the country's housing stock.

She said: "Much of this strategy is sensible and good, but there is no guarantee of funding and it is too reliant on feeble proposals like loft insulation. It is a start but it's not enough, and these measures would be absolutely inadequate to solving the problem.

"The regulations and minimum standards are all good, but the public needs to know what it is going to cost and who pays, rather than this approach where we tiptoe around this.

"Who is going to foot the bills? It has to be property owners. Landlords have to be responsible. They are the key."

The Scottish Government has pledged £65 million to tackle fuel poverty but opponents say the policies have failed to live up to the rhetoric.

Dr Boardman, of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, was also critical of the "feeble, namby-pamby" approach to demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of measures.

More than one-third of Scots households are currently estimated to be in fuel poverty and with rising bills the figure has been increasing.

A recent Scottish Government report, Fuel Poverty Evidence Review, says: "If five-year trends in the fuel-poverty ratio continue, it is projected that the Scottish mean fuel spend will exceed 10% on average by 2012, steadily rising to 12% by 2015, pushing the average household into fuel poverty from 2012."

Today's meeting at the Chartered Institute of Housing marks the culmination of a consultation on a sustainable-housing strategy to tackle both fuel poverty and climate change.

It has been organised by the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland, a coalition of groups calling for the current housing stock to be upgraded. It includes environmental, housing, and consumer groups, and the building industry.

It has backed the overall objectives of the Government's strategy, but wants targets raised on the basis of five-year milestones, and new minimum standards for private-sector housing at the point of sale or rental.

Elizabeth Leighton of WWF Scotland, which is in the alliance, said: "The Scottish Government has a real opportunity through its strategy to address the dual problems of climate change and fuel poverty, while at the same time winning thousands of jobs. We welcome the ambitions set out in the strategy - but fear it will not be backed up by enough funding to do the job.

"The Government's own studies show Scotland has missed the first statutory annual target on climate change emissions – with emissions from homes actually up 3% since 1990.

"Fuel poverty figures are also on the rise again – up to over 800,000. The Government needs to raise its game if we are to reap the rewards of warm, high quality, affordable, low carbon homes for everyone in Scotland."

Elaine Murray, Scottish Labour's housing spokeswoman, said: "The rise in the cost of household bills is one of the biggest problems facing hard-working families every day and we need an honest debate about how we offer support to those who need it."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have a raft of measures in place to support families and households struggling with their heating bills, and have allocated a £65 million budget to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency in 2012/13 – up significantly from 2011/12. Between 2009 and 2012, 62,000 homes benefited from loft insulation, 25,000 had cavity wall insulation installed and over 54,000 were referred for new central heating systems and insulation under Scottish Government schemes."

He said the Scottish Government was lobbying the UK Government to put pressure on energy companies to cut prices.