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Cost of living and energy crisis thrust into spotlight as Black Isle householder faces £100 a week heating bill

By Ian Duncan

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Craig Fraser: Major issue that needs urgent attention.
Craig Fraser: Major issue that needs urgent attention.

THE plight of a Black Isle householder anxious over the prospect of forking out £100 a week – and rising – just to heat her home has thrust the cost of living crisis into the spotlight.

Craig Fraser, who has just stood down as a long-serving Black Isle councillor, described the issue as one of the most important he can recall in all his years representing the area.

With energy costs due to rise again in the autumn, he believes rising prices would also impact those living in private rentals and homeowners and he had been raising the issue for the past two years.

Mr Fraser said he had spoken with council officers about this and a housing officer had echoed his concerns.

He said the UK Government had not offered much in the way of help – Chancellor Rishi Sunak has offered a £200 loan to be repaid in five instalments of £40. Mr Fraser said: "This council tenant will have her £4000 electricity bill reduced by £200 via this loan. This tenant is still not going to be able to afford the £3800 annual bill. What about households on prepayment meters? What about people who are debt free and do not want this £200 loan forced on them?"

Mr Fraser said that, when faced with the choice of heating or eating, residents may choose not to switch on their radiators and added: "By doing this we will see damp/mould problems affecting our tenants with the health issues that will come with it."

He said this would also lead to an increased cost in maintaining council housing and this would have to be met by Highland Council.

Mr Fraser suggested that the council should look at measures, such as insulating its tenanted properties, as "a matter of urgency" to help tackle the problem.

He said: "It is probably more cost effective to have a well-insulated home with an older heating system than a new system in a poorly insulated house?"

Emma Roddick MSP.
Emma Roddick MSP.

Emma Roddick, the SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: "It is of no surprise to any politician right now that there are many people in the Highlands struggling with their energy bills. Stories just like that which Cllr Fraser is pointing out are filling our inboxes.

"There’s a lot of work to be done by local authorities, housing associations and other landlords in making their existing stock more energy efficient, and the Scottish Government has committed £1.8 billion to decarbonise buildings.

"However, we cannot escape the fact that UK energy policy remains cruelly unfair to the Highlands and Islands. That can currently only be addressed by the UK Government, who show no signs of wanting to act. We need the powers that come with independence in order to address this and get a fair deal for the north."

MSP Kate Forbes.
MSP Kate Forbes.

Kate Forbes MSP said: “People are struggling right now with the cost of living, and there is every indication things will only get worse. That is why I have repeatedly urged the Chancellor to set out a comprehensive package of support.

“This should include converting the £200 energy loan into a grant, scrapping the National Insurance tax hike and reversing the callous cut to Universal Credit. Failure to act could, quite literally, plunge thousands of Scottish families into poverty.

“The SNP is taking action with the powers at our disposal but most of the levers and resources to tackle the cost of living crisis lie with Westminster, and the Tories are failing to lift a finger to use them.”

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