Highland families to benefit from energy company breaches

Families across the Highlands will benefit from new energy support funded by energy companies. Social housing providers, Albyn Housing Society and Cairn Housing Association, have obtained funds for a scheme that will provide expert energy advice to their tenants, to help them save money and improve living standards.

While fuel poverty is an issue right across the country, it is even more challenging in the Highlands where temperatures are colder and far fewer homes are connected to the gas grid, meaning tenants having to rely on more expensive heating options like oil and electric.

More than quarter of a million pounds has been secured for the two year collaboration. It will deliver targeted, specialist energy advice to social housing tenants who are most in need of support. It will provide expert information and advice to help individuals and families save money on their bills, improve warmth, and reduce anxiety.

It will provide targeted support for new tenants to try to prevent issues with energy bills from arising and causing further problems and pressure for tenants. Those tenants with low carbon heating systems like air source heat pumps will also receive specialist advice on how to use their systems most effectively.

Tenants will be referred by housing officers to receive this specialist advice but can also access the advice themselves. The expert energy advisers will provide support over the phone or by home visit if necessary. The scheme got up and running in June.

The specialist support is especially important for areas like the Highlands where many homes are not connected to the gas grid and have to rely on more expensive alternative fuels and heating systems, such as electric storage heaters.

The Energy Industry Voluntary Redress Fund is administered by the Energy Saving Trust and distributes payments from companies who may have breached Ofgem rules. They awarded £268,657 to Affordable Warmth Highland, a collaboration led by Albyn Housing Society and includes Cairn Housing Association, Changeworks and Home Energy Scotland. Changeworks’ Energy Advisors will provide free, impartial, and comprehensive 1:1 advice and advocacy to prevent and resolve fuel poverty issues and help tenants to develop energy resilience.

Graeme Hamilton, Tenancy Sustainment Manager at Albyn Housing Society said: “This past winter has been very challenging for our tenants. Many of us working in social housing have never seen it as tough. We have been supporting tenants throughout with cash payments, energy saving products like slow cookers, and providing carpets and curtains for those who are without.
“This new scheme which Albyn is leading will build on our work and provide expert advice for our tenants on how to make the most of their heating and the fuel that they use.
“Many of our families are not connected to the gas grid and have to rely on more expensive forms of heating such as electric or oil heating. These extreme rural locations are already much colder than other parts of the UK too.
“Our teams are committed to easing the burden on Albyn tenants to help them through the cost of living crisis. Having to choose between heating and eating can have serious challenges for mental and physical health. With our support, we hope to make the cost of living crisis as manageable as possible for all of our customers.”

Lisa Bygate, Affordable Warmth Service Manager, Changeworks said: “Changeworks is delighted to be partnering with Albyn and Cairn Housing Associations to deliver Affordable Warmth Highland. We know that the Highlands has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country, and we understand the challenges that this can pose for individuals and families. Our experienced, local energy advisors are ready to work with Cairn and Albyn tenants to help them stay warm and save money on their energy bills.
“We believe that everyone deserves to live in a warm and comfortable home, regardless of their income. The Affordable Warmth Highland Scheme is a key part of our commitment to tackling fuel poverty and helping to decarbonise Scottish homes. We are looking forward to making a difference to those who need our support most.”

Sean Connor, Director of Customer Services, Cairn Housing Association said: “The importance of addressing and tackling fuel poverty, improving energy efficiency, and reducing carbon emissions is something that cannot be done in isolation. Fuel poverty is a growing issue for many of our tenants. The cost of living has exacerbated this issue. A key impact on a household’s health and well-being is being able to keep their home warm. For many of our tenants, unaffordable fuel costs have led to choices such as heat or eat. By making homes more energy efficient and by using low carbon heating, homes should be more affordable to heat through associated carbon reduction measures.
“From the outset, Cairn was instantly keen to support and be part of this partnership with our colleagues at Albyn, Changeworks and Home Energy Scotland in order to make a positive difference and contribution in the best way to assist our tenants in tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency through a dedicated pool of shared resources.
“Through the Affordable Warmth Highlands Project, we are looking forward to working with our partners in assisting the tenants of both Cairn and Albyn to be supported to address the issues and challenges that will ensure people’s homes are warm and affordable to heat”.