Anti-fuel poverty groups are warning of a rise in debt due to unaffordable energy prices - as figures show the numbers of Scots households living in fuel poverty has soared by over 40% in three years.

Tomorrow, the energy regulator Ofgem is expected to announce a fall in energy prices with the cap expected to be at £2,054 a year for dual fuel users - but there are concerns this will have little effect on affordability.

Some analysts have warned that higher prices “may become the new normal”, predicting the cap would remain at similar levels until at least January 2024.

And there are worries that lives could be lost if there is no financial support going forward to replace the £400 provided over winter by government.

The predicted cap is still double what it was in 2020 - and poverty groups fear more will continue to suffer while over a third of Scots households already living in fuel poverty.

It comes as the pro-Scottish independence party Alba urged Ofgem to slash the price cap to just £1000 to reflect that the wholesale cost of gas is back below pre-Ukraine war levels to stop an energy bills "rip off".

Wholesale gas prices reached a high of around 590p per therm in August 2022 as energy bills went soaring but are now below 70p - a level not seen since June, 2021.

There are concerns that people who are already in debt dealing with the rise in their energy bills will be hit with more financial pain.

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Customers have been partly shielded from the most recent rises by the government’s Energy Price Guarantee introduced last October – which limited annual energy costs to £2,500 for the average household.

But that is set to finish at the end of June – and there is no indication that the £400 of extra government support handed out universally during the winter will continue after ending in April.

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It can be further revealed that across the UK, at the end of 2022, "eyewatering" Ofgem analysis has revealed that there were around 3.4m domestic accounts in debt or arrears for over 91 days - nearly one in 15 households to the financial value of around £2.3bn.

Average debt, where are payment plan was in place, sat at £848 for electricity and gas combined, whilst average arrears was at £1,853.11.

According to Scottish Government modelling estimates, from October 2022, there were around 860,000 households in fuel poverty in Scotland - around 35% of homes.

That is 247,000 more than in 2019 when the last Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) showed 613,000 households were in fuel poverty - around 25% of homes.

Fuel poverty relates to households that must spend a high proportion of their household income to keep their home at a reasonable temperature. It is affected by three key factors - a household’s income, their fuel costs, and their energy consumption, which in turn is affected by the energy efficiency of the home.

It is defined in Scotland, that after housing costs, the total fuel costs needed to maintain a satisfactory heating regime are more than 10% of the household’s total taxable income.

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Frazer Scott, chief executive of Energy Action Scotland said the £400 payment to all households should be repeated to support the most vulnerable in society or lives would be lost.

He said any fall in the cap will "bring little real terms comfort to households as energy costs will remain at an incredibly high level".


He said more support was needed for people with underlying health conditions, older households, families with very young children and those homes which need to be heated to a higher temperature for longer.

He said: "To not provide further help is an act of national harm. People will need medical support, lives will be lost. All of which is unnecessary and isn’t right or fair in a modern society.

"Forecasters predict that energy prices will rise further over the autumn and winter price cap revisions, people will endure the same if not higher levels of unaffordability.

"Energy related debt is rising with those already in debt, but not yet able to address it, have an average of over £1000 in arrears for electricity and over £800 for gas.

"With high energy prices set to endure for potentially years to come we need to see some urgency to create a reduced cost social tariff for those in greatest difficult and a fairer market focussed on people not the profits of companies.”

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said there were concerns that the problems with debt will be at a greater scale and that more had to be done to make bills affordable while improvements in access to support for insulating homes was needed.

"We are seeing energy prices that will still be at an unaffordable level for most households. "The problem is people's ability to pay is being reduced. People are using savings and maxing credit cards to get by and everyday costs are not going down."

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Calling for the energy price to be slashed, Alba Party deputy leader Kenny MacAskill said: "Scotland is an energy rich land but as a result of UK Government mismanagement of our energy resources we have record levels of fuel poverty.

"The Energy Price Cap was quick to rise as the wholesale cost of gas shot up, but Ofgem haven’t been so quick at protecting consumers with cheaper energy bills as the wholesale cost has dropped.

"People across Scotland need action this week. Ofgem must announce the reduction of the energy price cap, resetting it to a level much closer to £1000. If Ofgem fail to act then the UK Government should sack them and intervene."

Energy minister Gillian Martin said: “The Scottish Government has done and continues to do everything within our power to support the many thousands of households who continue to struggle with their energy bills. This includes tripling our Fuel Insecurity Fund to £30 million this year, in order to support even more people facing unprecedented energy costs.

“The UK Government has continually failed to take the necessary steps to support people now and make the necessary changes – which only it can take - to ensure households and businesses never experience an energy crisis like this again. This includes reversing its decision to end the Energy Bills Support Scheme and responding to calls for a social tariff to protect those most in need.”

An Ofgem spokesman said: “Ofgem is legally required to regularly review the level at which the energy price cap is set, to ensure that energy suppliers can recoup their efficient costs while making sure customers do not pay a higher amount for their energy than they should, by setting a maximum that suppliers can charge per unit of energy.”