THE cost of owning and running a home in Scotland has soared to its highest level in a decade amid soaring energy bills, despite interest rates being at a record low.

Homeowners have suffered a 50% rise in costs since 2002, according to a study by the Bank of Scotland.

They can now expect to pay an average of £8523 a year thanks to huge increases in costs, including a £237 jump in utility bills over the last year.

On average, Scotland recorded a surge of £257 in overall costs in the last year – the third-biggest increase in the UK – with rising gas and electricity bills accounting for 92% of the figure.

Interest rates have been held at 0.5 percentage points by the Bank of England for the past three years, leading to lower monthly mortgage payments.

However, consumer groups said the study's "worrying" figures showed that, despite this, many homeowners are still struggling financially.

Depute director of Consumer Focus Scotland, Trisha McAuley said: "Householders do seem to be being hit particularly hard by increased prices.

"The fact most of the extra cost is in their energy bills, something that we would all regard as essential, is of particular concern.

"Despite the underlying trend being for prices of things like electricity, gas and insurance to go up, it is still often possible to get a better deal by switching to another supplier.

"There are steps hard-pressed householders are not taking that could cut their energy bills on an ongoing basis.

"It is always a surprise to us how many people don't do anything to make their homes more energy efficient despite the help that is on offer to improve insulation and reduce heat loss."

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Scotland said it has been forced to train more staff in money management due to a rise in Scots looking for help.

Head of policy Susan McPhee said: "Every week we continue to see report after report showing how many people are really struggling financially.

"Ever since the credit crunch and the recession, we have had to train more and more of our advisers to specialise in money advice just to cope with the increase in people who need help with financial issues.

"For years the cost of living has risen steadily, while household incomes have stayed level or have fallen.

"As a result, basic issues like paying bills and putting food on the table has become a real challenge for many families in Scotland every single week."

The research shows housing costs rose by 3.1% from £8266 in January 2011 to £8523 in the same month this year.

This was above the UK average of a 2.7% increase, but less than the 3.6% rise in consumer prices over the same period.

The £8523 figure for running a home in Scotland is 9% lower than the UK average of £9393.

The most significant reduced cost was mortgage repayments, which fell an average of £59 over the last year. Since 2008 they have fallen by nearly a quarter from £3775 to £2910.

Housing economist at the Bank of Scotland, Nitesh Patel said: "The typical costs of owning and running a home in Scotland have increased over the past year, even though interest rates have remained at a historic low.

"This has happened because the substantial fall in mortgage payments over recent years has been more than offset by increases in most of the other costs associated with home ownership.

"The prospect of declining consumer price inflation through much of 2012 may help the costs associated with running a home to ease as well."