In December – and especially at Christmas – it’s poignant to reflect on the fact that more than a quarter of Scottish households are still living in fuel poverty and more than a million homes are falling below the energy efficiency standard needed for good health.

In June last year, the Scottish Government published the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill to examine priorities for tackling the problem but a lot remains to be done to reduce inequalities and improve wellbeing.

As Newton Property Management’s 2020 Green Vision drive towards ecological improvement gears up for 2019, the company has decided to reduce its own unnecessary paper use while also tackling the issue of fuel property and is now working alongside Energy Action Scotland (EAS), the only national charity with fuel poverty as its sole remit.

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“As property factors with tens of thousands of customers and a housing orientated business we decided to set ourselves the task of doing our bit to help stamp out fuel poverty,” says Newton’s joint managing director Stephen O’Neill.

Although just over 50% of Newton’s customers receive paper communication from the company, with the remainder having moved to e-communication, O’Neill is committed to improving this. With postage costing 60 pence per item he says the company can save significant cost and has pledged to redistribute 100% of these postal savings, via EAS, to people experiencing fuel poverty.

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“Every year Newton Property Factors goes through a huge amount of paper – we send out two skips full of paper every year,” he says. If we had avoided using this obscene amount of paper for the past 18 years and adopted e-communication at an earlier stage we could have bought our own forest.”

O’Neill says of particular concern to the company are older people and young families who are unable to afford to keep their homes warm especially during the winter months in Scotland.

“Sadly, the number of households affected here is 26.5% or 650,000. Worse, the number of households affected by extreme fuel poverty is 7.55% or 180,000. In this day and age we believe that this is unacceptable; we have decided we can do something about it and we will.”

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Newton’s joint managing director Stephen O’Neill.

There are, he adds, several factors that result in fuel poverty, including poor insulation, high utility costs and low incomes. “We wouldn’t describe ourselves as tree huggers – though we do like trees – but if we can play a small part in helping to slow down the felling of trees while also reducing fuel poverty then it’s a win-win for our customers, the needy and the shrinking forests.”

During the past year the company, a partner in The Herald’s Climate for Change campaign, took a serious look at what it could do regarding its environmental responsibilities and is, says O’Neill, truly motivated to reduce its own and its customers’ carbon footprint in every way it can.

“After some board level blue sky thinking we introduced a quarterly paper communication fee to encourage customers to move to email communication,” he says, noting that the charge will not apply to those without email, especially older customers.

“We estimate our new e-communication customers can help lots of families or individuals in Scotland keep warm and are hoping to help many families through our work with EAS. We need the support of our customers to move to e-communication – Newton will do the rest and this cost saving will give every ‘brown penny’ back to those less fortunate, perhaps helping to ensure that potentially dozens of Scottish households have a warmer winter,” he says.

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Norman Kerr, Director of Energy Action Scotland, said the charity is delighted to have the support of Newton Property: “It is aware that in common with all people, their clients are potentially vulnerable. By working together, we can identify opportunities to support energy efficiency with a company that prioritises making a positive impact on the lives of its clients across Scotland.”

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