More than 400,000 Scots are living in cold damp homes, exposed to the health complications that come from living in fuel poverty.

That is the conclusion reached by a new study by the Warm This Winter campaign which lays bare fresh concerns about people fearing to heat their homes properly in the continuing cost of living crisis.

Based on a survey of more than 200 Scots carried out between November 24 and 28 by Opinium, it found nearly one in ten (9%) said they lived in a cold damp home.

And 32% of those questions said they were worried about friends, relatives, neighbours and the wider community.

It comes after the regulator Ofgem has said the energy bills cap will be increased to 29p per unit of electricity and 7p per unit of gas from the start of next year.

It means that the typical household’s dual fuel bill will rise from £1,834 per year to £1,928 from January.

The increase in the price cap was expected because the cost of wholesale gas has gone up in recent months. This is due to world events including the conflict in the Middle East.

Despite the price cap, average energy bills remain nearly double what they were two years ago when the price cap was at £1,042.

On top of that, this winter there will be no reintroduction of a £400 energy bills support scheme to help households as was the case last winter when the UK Government's Energy Price Guarantee set average dual fuel bills at £2500 per year.

The Herald: Action must be taken now to ease energy bills pain

The UK Government has rejected proposals in an online petition calling for the Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) to be reinstated.

Some 11,728 people across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland signed an e-petition created by campaigner William Conway, who warned that many people are facing a choice between heating and eating this winter.

An estimated 28 million households received a £66/£67 monthly discount on their energy bills between October 2022 and March 2023, under the scheme.

The Warm This Winter campaign coalition supported by leading anti-poverty and environmental organisations had also found that Scots typically said they needed £70 off a month off their bills to make it affordable to heat their homes to a comfortable level.

They found that some two in three (61%) of Scots are having to cut down on essential spending to afford their energy bills - with campaigners saying in some cases even this won’t be enough to avoid living in cold damp homes.

Asked how much struggling households would need to be able to afford their energy bills, around 19% of struggling Scots say that they need over £100 a month. On average, Scottish respondents said they need £70 a month off their bills.

Across the whole of the UK, a third of smart meter customers who have a prepayment meter setting (32%) say they live in a cold damp home with 27% of those on traditional PPMs saying the same. Almost a quarter (22%) of standard credit customers are in cold damp homes, yet just 11% of direct debit customers live in such conditions.

The NHS warns that people with damp and mould in their homes are more likely to have respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma.

The Herald:

Damp and mould can also affect the immune system while living in such conditions can also increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes.

Cold homes can cause and worsen respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, poor mental health, dementia and hypothermia as well as cause and slow recovery from injury.

Petitions with over 800,000 signatures have been handed into the Prime Minister calling for more action to bring down bills now and end energy debt to help end the cold damp homes crisis now facing the country.

Dr Isobel Braithwaite, a health and housing researcher at the University College London, said the survey which formed part of a UK-wide analysis showed a "shockingly high" prevalence of cold and damp homes which "poses a grave risk to the public's health"

"These conditions are severely harming the health of the most vulnerable in society: from young children; people with heart and lung conditions; to older people, and this situation is unconscionable in 2023," she said.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition added: "Across Scotland the cold damp homes crisis is preying on the minds of vast swathes of the population as we head deeper into winter.

"The UK Government has failed to provide any additional financial support to help bring down the cost of energy bills - despite repeated warnings from campaigners that we are facing a cold homes crisis.

"But the long term solution will require the UK and Scottish Governments to work together to bring down the cost of energy at source and to ensure that Scottish homes are better insulated and more energy efficient.

"It should be a national priority to ensure no one has to live in Dickensian conditions each winter."

In its response to the EBSS petition, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “The Government recognises the cost of living challenges families are facing and spent over £40 billion last winter helping households and businesses, covering around half a typical household’s energy bill, worth £1,500 between October 2022 and June 2023.

“The outlook for energy prices has improved significantly this year. The Q4 2023 Ofgem price cap of £1,834 has more than halved compared to the Q1 2023 price cap which stood at a high of £4,279, which is good news for households who have seen their energy prices fall.”

The response also highlights the support being provided for vulnerable households through the 2023/24 cost of living payments - £900 - for households on means-tested benefits, £150 for people on disability benefits and a £300-pensioner cost of living payment added to Winter Fuel Payments.

Support was also available through the £150 Warm Home Discount, which currently helps 3m households across Great Britain and the response states that the UK Government is also “continuing to explore options to make the Warm Home Discount more flexible”.

The response continues: “The Government welcomes Ofgem’s review of energy bills standing charges. We have been clear about our expectations that energy prices need to be set fairly, protecting the most vulnerable households.

“The Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero recently chaired a roundtable with energy suppliers to set expectations and reiterate the importance of protecting vulnerable customers. The Government will continue to engage energy suppliers and keep the situation under close review.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson told the Herald: “We recognise the cost-of-living challenges families are facing and we spent £40 billion paying around half a typical household’s energy bill last winter.

“Our Energy Price Guarantee remains in place to protect people until April next year. We’re also continuing to support the most vulnerable, with three million households expected to benefit from the £150 Warm Home Discount, £900 for those on means-tested benefits, and an extra £150 for disabled people.

“Our Great British Insulation Scheme is also helping families in lower council tax bands, with less energy-efficient homes, to heat their homes for less – with more than 300,000 set to benefit."