Almost a quarter of Scottish householders do not have access to mains gas or do not use it as their main heating fuel. Many of these consumers also live in rural areas where, as well as relying on more expensive fuels, other factors make them more vulnerable to fuel poverty. Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) was keen to know whether consumers in these areas were benefiting as much as their urban counterparts from UK and Scottish Government efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes. In addition, CAS was aware of a number of cases coming into their Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) of social housing tenants in rural, off-gas areas reporting unaffordable new heating systems.

Changeworks and CAG Consultants were commissioned to carry out research to explore these issues further through:

  • an analysis of Scottish and UK energy efficiency schemes, including data analysis and geographic mapping
  • gathering cost data on heating replacements
  • energy modelling (using RdSAP, the software behind EPCs) to determine running costs and the effects on ‘SAP scores’
  • a survey of social landlords and social housing tenants

The research found that, overall, energy efficiency schemes delivered until the start of ECO did not have an urban bias i.e. overall, urban areas have not benefited more than rural areas from these schemes. On average, homes in rural areas have received slightly fewer measures than the overall average across Scotland. However, homes in ‘large urban areas’ also received fewer measures than the average for all areas and it was other types of urban areas that received more measures per household than average.

Economies of scale that can be achieved in delivering energy efficiency schemes in urban areas and developed supply chains mean that urban areas may have benefited from schemes earlier and over longer periods. However this is offset by a number of factors: (a) specific elements of schemes designed to target rural, off-gas areas, (b) fuel poverty programmes targeting properties with poor energy efficiency ratings (which are more prevalent in rural areas), and (c) Scottish area-based schemes which ensure that all local authority areas benefit.

A variety of heating systems are being fitted into social housing in rural, off-gas areas including air source heat pumps (ASHPs), ‘smart’ storage heaters, electric boilers, biomass / multi-fuel boilers or stoves, infrared systems and solar thermal (for hot water only). By far the most commonly installed technology is ASHPs, with ‘smart’ storage heaters also being commonly installed and to some extent, biomass boilers/multi-fuel stoves.

Energy modelling suggests that replacement heating bills will reduce from replacing heating systems, sometimes considerably so. This was backed up by most experiences of social landlords and tenants; however, there were cases where bills were reported to not have decreased and in some cases, increased. The energy modelling suggests that higher cost technologies (such as ground source heat pumps (GSHPs)) are likely to reduce tenants’ energy bills more than lower cost technologies (ASHPs, ‘smart’ storage heaters and electric boilers).

Landlords are replacing heating systems because of cyclical replacement programmes, needing to meet the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) and the desire/aim to reduce tenants’ fuel bills. The choice of technology is based on a number of factors such as installation cost, tenant satisfaction, and maintenance requirements. Decision-making processes differed between landlords, with some finding it more difficult / complex than others. Lack of information was cited by some as an issue.

Critical to the success of any of the heating systems is ensuring tenants understand and can use it effectively. This is more challenging for some systems which may be considered new or complex (such as ASHPs). All landlords reported that they are delivering advice to tenants and recognise the importance of this; however more needs to be done to ensure advice is sufficient and delivered in an easy-to-understand manner.

Few landlords have carried out robust monitoring and evaluation of the impact of heating system replacements, but where done on a smaller scale it is reported to have helped inform technology choice.

Consumer experience of technologies was generally positive in terms of ease of use, warmth provision and affordability. No technology emerged as clearly the ‘best’ technology or the ‘worst’ technology (although it should be caveated that sample sizes for this part of the research were small). Problems were encountered with some technologies; for example, heat provision of ‘smart’ storage heaters in the afternoon / evening. However many of the problems encountered seemed likely to have been easily resolved following advice from landlords or installers which led to better user behaviour.


  1. UK and Scottish energy efficiency and fuel poverty schemes should continue to be pro-actively designed in such a way that rural, off-gas areas benefit as much as urban areas. Given that fuel poverty rates tend to be highest in rural, off-gas areas, consideration could also be given to providing greater support to these areas.
  2. Landlords should provide appropriate guidance and support to tenants to ensure effective use of systems to maximise heating bill reductions, provision of warmth and tenant satisfaction. This should include:
  • demonstrations and in-home explanations on how to use the system
  • easy-to-understand and simple written instructions
  • follow-up advice to ensure correct understanding
  • greater support for vulnerable tenants e.g. elderly tenants
  • advice for new tenants when moving into the home, as well as when new systems are fitted
  • advice on the most appropriate tariff (and in some cases advocacy to resolve disputes with energy suppliers).
  1. More monitoring and evaluation should be carried out on the impact of heating replacements in rural, off-gas areas to better understand the impact on running costs, the life cycle costs of newer technologies and to better understand the experience of tenants. This is particularly important for vulnerable tenants.
  2. Where feasible, landlords should give tenants a choice of replacement heating systems. In these situations, tenants should be given appropriate information to ensure they can make a well-informed choice.
  3. Landlords should have a thorough understanding of the impact of heating replacements on SAP scores so that the impact on EESSH compliance is known. However landlords must also factor in wider considerations such as tenants’ acceptance of the technology (influenced by real or perceived understanding of ease of use or disruption during install).
  4. In their choice of technology and scheme design (e.g. tenant engagement methods, evaluation, etc.), social landlords should seek to share information with other landlords and undertake their own pilot schemes to derive learning.

To see the report in full, click here.

Dec 07, 2018