AS heating bills continue to rise into the new year, an MSP has challenged the UK Government to cut bills for rural communities facing plunging temperatures.

Ariane Burgess (below), Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP, said households in her region will be among the worst hit anywhere in the UK because of the increase to Ofgem’s price cap on energy bills leaving many families £2000 worse off as the mercury dips.

The National: Ariane Burgess.

The 5% increase for the first and traditionally coldest quarter of the year means average households paying by direct debit for dual fuel will have to find £1928 to cover their annual bill - a rise of £94 over the course of a year.

Burgess urged the Government to do more for rural communities, adding that fuel poverty rates are higher in the Scottish Highlands and Islands than in other parts of the UK.

She said: “We already know rural Scotland experiences higher levels of fuel poverty than the rest of the country, particularly the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

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“In remote rural areas, fuel poverty rates are around 40% - that’s four in 10 homes that struggle to afford these essential costs.”

According to Scottish environmental charity Changeworks, 24% of households in Scotland were in fuel poverty in 2019, and 12% in extreme poverty.

The charity said remote, rural areas of Scotland face significantly higher levels of fuel poverty, at 40%.

In the Highlands and Islands, 36% of households were in fuel poverty and 24% in extreme fuel poverty.

These figures have not been updated since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and so do not reflect the current cost of living crisis.

Burgess criticised the lack of support from the UK Government, adding that it was “particularly unfair” that rural households are so vulnerable to energy price increases given that “so much of the UK’s energy” is “generated and supplied by the Highlands and Islands”.

According to research by Scottish Renewables, Scotland has 11.9GW of renewable electricity generation capacity, 3.5GW of which are in the Highlands and Islands.

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Two-thirds of the region’s renewable energy capacity is onshore wind, followed by hydro power at 32%.

Burgess continued: “As winter bites, the failure of the UK Government to support rural households facing higher fuel prices means the burden is falling unfairly on those who are already battling with lower incomes, more inefficient housing, a colder climate and more expensive heating systems.”

Burgess suggested various measures the UK Government and energy regulator Ofgem could take to help rural communities.

These include: The introduction of a social tariff through a review of the Electricity Market Arrangements; directing Ofgem to review standing charges; and improving protections for restricted meter customers.

Earlier this year, we reported that Scotland’s remote and rural communities are facing annual energy bills of more than double the UK average.

The average household bill in Shetland in October 2022 was £5578 - more than double the UK average of £2500, according to evidence submitted to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee by Shetland Islands Council.