The new figures show that in 2012 there were 647,000 (27.1%) households in fuel poverty, which compares with the now revised upwards level of 721,000 (30.5%) households in 2011.
Norman Kerr, Director of national fuel poverty charity, Energy Action Scotland, said: “It is rather unexpected that the number of Scottish households in fuel poverty has fallen in these difficult times. Energy prices are rarely out of the news and people’s budgets generally are under pressure.
“The new figures perhaps show that efforts to make homes more energy efficient are working, because less energy is needed to heat them, but it is vital that the Scottish Government and the energy companies do not take the view that ‘the job is done’. “They must realise there is still much to do to eradicate fuel poverty by the target date of 2016.”
Energy Action Scotland said that the figures are time-lagged as they relate to 2012 and therefore may not reflect levels of fuel poverty in Scotland at present.
Fuel poverty is defined as needing to pay more than 10% of household income on fuel bills. The three main factors that impact on fuel poverty are poor energy efficiency of the home, low disposable household income and high domestic energy prices.
The Scottish House Condition Survey highlights that in mid- 2012, around 74,000 fewer households – a 3.4% drop – were in fuel poverty than in October 2011, with improved energy efficiency contributing two-thirds of the fall and increases in household income contributing one third.
The Scottish Government invested £220 million on fuel poverty and energy efficiency measures between 2009/10 and 20012/13 and will spend nearly a quarter of a billion pounds over the period 2013/14 to 2015/16 on further initiatives.
Yet, while some progress has been made against a backdrop of soaring energy bills, proposed Westminster cuts to energy efficiency and fuel poverty programmes are set to jeopardise further improvements, hitting the most vulnerable in society the hardest.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: “While these latest figures show a reduction in the number of households living in fuel poverty in 2012, it is an absolute scandal that people are still struggling with this issue in a country as energy-rich as Scotland.
“We are doing everything we can within our limited powers to provide a wide range of energy efficiency measures to individual households and to local authorities. But we need the full powers of independence to fully tackle all the causes of fuel poverty.
“As well committing to invest at least £200 million a year in measures to tackle fuel poverty, in Scotland’s Future we set out how ‘green levies’ being funded by Government rather than energy companies would reduce energy bills by around 5% – or around £70 – every year.
“This is a fairer way of paying for energy efficiency measures than through people’s energy bills and would enable us to design a new means of funding, delivering energy efficiency improvements to Scottish homes that are fairer and better suited to our needs.”