THE number of Scots in 'fuel poverty' has soared by 130% in the past five years, with shocking cases of struggling households being left for months without any means of heating or cooking.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned levels of fuel poverty are higher than ever due to the impact of low incomes, increased living costs and austerity policies such as benefit sanctions. The SNP blamed "UK Government benefit cuts".

Campaigners also say fuel poverty – defined as a household having to spend 10% or more of its income on energy to maintain a warm home – is no longer an issue which mainly affects the elderly.

New figures published by CAS today show there were 28,000 cases involving energy issues in 2014-15 – an increase of a third from the previous year and up 130% since 2011.

Among the disturbing cases dealt with by advisers was the story of a father of a two-week old baby who was left without any money for gas and electricity, after being told he had to wait two weeks for a Universal Credit payment.

Another case in the east of Scotland involved a couple with a nine-month-old baby girl being left without any money for food or gas and electricity. Their benefit was stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions after it claimed a sick note had not been received - even though it had been sent the previous week.

Other examples include a client who was in arrears with his energy bills and no money to get reconnected. By the time he went for help, he had been without gas and electricity – and had no means of cooking – for three months.

One woman had no fuel for two months last winter as she could not afford her bills and had to stay with friends.

The new CAS reports, which cover the past two years, comes after cold homes were blamed for the number of winter deaths in Scotland reaching a 15-year high.

Official figures published last week show there were 22,011 deaths between December 2014 and March 2015 - the highest since the winter of 1999/2000 when there was a flu outbreak.

Sarah Beattie-Smith, CAS consumer spokeswoman, said the reports showed a “clear growth” in the number of Scots struggling to pay their energy bills.

She said: “Our case evidence also highlights the key issues that have affected consumers’ ability to heat their homes over this period.

“These include low pay, under-employment, increased living costs and rising debt, in addition to the impact of austerity policies such as below-inflation benefit payments, the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions and long waits for benefit assessments.”

She added: “The levels of fuel poverty in Scotland are higher than ever, and all over the country there are families who yet again this winter will face the devastating choice of whether to heat their home or put food on the table.”

Norman Kerr, director of charity Energy Action Scotland, which campaigns for an end to fuel poverty, said pensioners used to be the single biggest group of people affected by the issue.

But he said: “That is not the case now, and we see a lot of younger people in fuel poverty who are on the minimum wage or less than the minimum wage, who are really struggling just to make ends meet.

“It is not just about pensioners any more, it is about in-work poverty. When you are being squeezed like that there is the very real dilemma for people between heating and eating.”

He added: “In some cases foodbanks are being asked for food parcels that don’t require people to heat anything, because they are frightened to put on the cooker to boil a pan of pasta or heat a tin of beans.

“People can’t afford to put the heating on and I think that is borne out by the experience of CAS as they see people coming through their door who are really struggling very hard to make ends meet.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it had allocated more than half a billion pounds since 2009 on fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes.

He added: “Our spending on domestic energy efficiency has already made hundreds of thousands of homes warmer and cheaper to heat and has helped to mitigate the rise in fuel poverty, even though its main drivers are outwith our control.

“We recognise those who are suffering from UK Government benefit cuts or sanctions are being hit hard. From April 2013 to March 2015, we spent around £65 million providing Scottish Welfare Fund Community Care Grants and Crisis Grants to over 150,000 households in Scotland.”