THE gravity of the cost of living crisis and spiralling energy prices cannot be underestimated.

Before the spate of energy price rises, one in four households in Scotland was living in fuel poverty – a figure we’re already seeing rise.

The reality of living in fuel poverty is tough. In these winter months it’s brutal. Living in a home that you can’t keep warm, being unable to cook a hot meal for your kids or take a warm shower, makes life extremely hard.

Living in a cold home impacts mental wellbeing and physical health. Those living in fuel poverty are more likely to be referred to hospital with a respiratory condition, and sadly, every year people die from living in a cold home.

That’s why it’s vital we continue to prioritise addressing fuel poverty. Action is needed now to avoid the effects of the current crisis worsening and people’s quality of life being impacted as families ration energy.

The Scottish Government has committed to ambitious targets to tackle the key drivers of fuel poverty, with a view to eradicating it as far as is reasonably possible by 2040.

The Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel was established in 2022 to work alongside the Scottish Government, provide advice and scrutinise progress in reaching these targets.

This involves wide-ranging discussion with those who can drive the change needed, from advice agencies to the regulator, the energy sector and those with lived experience, to understand what will help people experiencing fuel poverty now – and crucially, limit the likelihood of families falling into fuel poverty in the future.

We recently set out recommendations for the Scottish Government to be actioned in the short-term.

One related to optimising advice agencies’ delivery to help lessen the impact of rising energy prices. Even before the last energy pricing announcement, advice agencies reported demand was increasing week on week, with complex queries taking more time to resolve and the emotional toll on staff becoming detrimental.

There has never been greater need for these agencies’ services and all possible action needs to be taken now to ensure crucial and impactful advice and support is there.

Making access to and distribution of available funding simpler to households who need urgent support is also key to protecting those affected by fuel poverty.

We also recommended the Scottish Government continue to advocate for rapid action from the UK Government to close the gap between incomes and rising energy costs, ensuring it uses its own powers to optimum effect.

Whist immediate priorities are clear, working towards securing freedom from future fuel poverty is a focus: we’ve pressed the Scottish Government to ensure that it has clear ambition to make houses more energy efficient, alongside driving reform in the energy market which collectively could be game-changing in reducing fuel poverty levels.

Whilst this initial advice encourages short-term action, delivery of these targets can only be achieved through collaboration, with bodies and organisations coming together to do whatever is possible to ensure fuel poverty is consigned to history.

Matthew Cole is Chair of the Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel