CALLS for urgent action have been made as it emerged 32,000 more Scots households have been plunged into extreme fuel poverty in a year - and Covid-19 cannot be blamed.

Almost 1 in 4, some 613,000 households in Scotland, were in fuel poverty in 2019 - broadly the same as the previous year.

But of those, some 311,000 households were living in extreme fuel poverty - defined as paying more than 20% of their income heating their homes - 32,000 more than in 2018.

It comes a matter of days after end of life charity Marie Curie warned that fuel poverty will kill Scottish people quicker this winter as terminally ill people struggle to afford to heat their homes.

In Scotland, a household is considered “fuel poor” if required fuel costs are more than 10 per cent of net income after housing costs, and the money left over after housing, fuel and childcare costs is not enough for an acceptable standard of living.

In 2018,  59  groups from across Scotland joined forces to call for "real action" from the Government in tackling fuel poverty.

The groups, led by the Existing Homes Alliance, fear the Scottish Government's planned Warm Homes Bill missed opportunity, unless steps are taken to beef up the legislation.

Citizens Advice Scotland has now warned that the figures could be worse next year, as Covid squeezes incomes while keeping more people at home.

CAS fair markets spokeswomans Kate Morrison said: “Scotland’s level of fuel poverty is horrifying with over 600,000 households feeling the squeeze. It’s also exceptionally worrying to see instances of extreme fuel poverty on the rise.

HeraldScotland:

“A small decline in overall figures is to be welcomed and suggests that some measures may be supporting families out of fuel poverty, however it cannot be acceptable for a country like Scotland to see 1 in 4 homes living in fuel poverty, and growing numbers of people having to hand over a fifth of their incomes to keep their homes warm.

“The real concern here is these grim figures are pre-Covid. We know the pandemic has squeezed incomes for many people, and it’s led to the unavoidable consequence of people spending more time at home.

“This requires real action from policy makers and industry. Greater access to schemes like the Warm Home Discount would help, as would increasing investment in energy efficiency measures, which would have the twin benefit of cutting both emissions and energy bills for people.

The data came from the Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) for 2019.

And it has been warned that any updates on how Covid-19 is affecting fuel poverty may well be delayed.

The 2020 SHCS fieldwork has been suspended since 17 March due to the effects of Covid-19.

And the Scottish Government said it may be 2021 or later until all additional information is collected to fully account for all the elements of the new definition in the SHCS fuel poverty estimates.

Marie Curie warned that high energy bills, delays in accessing benefits and the other costs associated with their illness are leaving terminally ill people struggling to afford their heating costs, with families feeling the pressure to support them.

A report released by the charity found that between 2014 and 2019 in Scotland there were 16,500 excess winter deaths.

Some 710 of these were from chronic lower respiratory diseases, and 930 deaths from dementia attributed to cold, damp housing.

In line with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on November 27, the charity called for greater financial support and guidance to support dying people out of fuel poverty.

“It is shocking that any dying person should spend the end of their life in cold, damp and uncomfortable conditions, robbed of the best quality of life possible because of unaffordable heating costs,” said Richard Meade, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie Scotland.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to ending fuel poverty entirely and implementing our ambitious Fuel Poverty Act.

“Fuel poverty figures in the 2019 report are likely to have been influenced by an increase in fuel prices between 2018 and 2019, particularly for electricity.

"Indeed, these statistics have highlighted that cost of electricity per unit remains a significant issue in terms of tackling fuel poverty as a driver of fuel poverty.  We are determined to address fuel poverty in Scotland but we also need to see action by the UK Government on energy prices as energy markets remain reserved.

“We know the Covid-19 pandemic will have exacerbated concerns over affording bills for many. Our £350 million package of Communities Funding, brought in during the pandemic, includes support for people struggling with energy costs, a significant increase to the Scottish Welfare Fund, which can help people on low incomes with essential costs such as heating, and increased housing support.

“Yesterday, the First Minister announced a further £100 million Winter Support Package in which we will make available up to £7 million in new funding to supporting fuel poor households. We also recently announced a further £16 million to improve the energy efficiency of people’s homes to make them warmer and cheaper to heat, taking our total grant funding this year to support fuel poor households to £97 million.”