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Proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill: Consultation response

Proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill: Consultation response

March 2024

Established by the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, the Commissioner is responsible for promoting and safeguarding the rights of all children and young people in Scotland, giving particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Commissioner has powers to review law, policy and practice and to take action to promote and protect rights. The Commissioner is fully independent of the Scottish Government

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Children and young people in Scotland tell us that environmental matters are of great importance to them. They have voiced repeated concern for the combined climate and nature emergencies and experience anxiety surrounding these issues. We have heard that they are frustrated by the lack of progress and that despite their efforts, those in power have not acted. They feel ignored and powerless.

Scotland has a legal target to reach ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions and changing the way we heat our homes and workplaces is an important part of that journey.[1] We are supportive of the principles of the proposed bill and ending the use of polluting heating systems.

How we heat our homes and workplaces should be considered through a children’s rights lens. Children and young people are disproportionately affected by environmental issues. This includes an increased risk of health-related issues caused by pollution.[2]

These issues directly engage UNCRC rights, now incorporated into Scots law, including; 

Article 6 – the right to life and development. 

Article 24 – the right to good quality health care and a clean environment. 

Article 27 – the right to a decent standard of living, including food, housing, water. 

Article 29 – the right to education that supports children to learn to respect the natural environment. 

The proposed Heat in Buildings Bill has the potential to mitigate some of the effects of this by reducing emissions, transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels and making a cleaner and healthier environment for children to grow up in. The scale of this transition is massive, we note that if these targets are to be met that change must grow dramatically to well over 100,000 homes a year.[3]

At present, the proposed provisions have the potential to alleviate some issues which exacerbate child poverty, particularly for those children experiencing fuel poverty. This will only be achieved if care is taken to ensure this is a just transition. The impact of moving to clean heating must be to reduce inequalities, not widen them. Polices must be in place to share costs fairly.

The latest Concluding Observations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted a ‘deep concern’ that 250,000 children are living in poverty in Scotland, which equates to around one in four children.[4]

The Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel highlight that in Scotland around 850,000 households (34% of households) are currently living in fuel poverty and 23% of households are living in extreme fuel poverty. These issues are deepening with the cost-of-living crisis and many families need to make the choice between heating and eating.[5]

Fuel poverty has some serious consequences for children and young people. Studies have found an increased risk of respiratory diseases and other health conditions associated with exposure to mould. This results in more hospital admissions. It has also been shown that there is a link between fuel poverty and low educational attainment.[6] The climate and nature emergencies afflict the poorest and most marginalised worst of all, exacerbating existing inequalities.[7]

Whilst properly insulating homes could lead to cheaper energy bills and work to reduce fuel poverty, the upfront costs of making these changes will be challenging.  

We agree with the recommendations made by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) that low-income and vulnerable households must be supported with the costs of transition, ensuring that costs are fair across the income spectrum – meaning a progressive distribution. They recommend the use of up-front grants to fund the transition.[8]

We note that this Bill will not apply to the social rented sector but will focus on other buildings including private owner-occupiers and private landlords. Both these types of households will contain a significant number of children, living in families who have been strongly affected by the cost-of-living crisis. Many of them are living in poverty or at risk of falling into this as families struggle to keep up with rising costs.  Owner-occupiers in this situation may simply not be able to afford to make these changes, despite owning their property. They could lose their homes, putting further pressure on social housing. Households who are on a low income may not have savings to pay for decarbonisation measures. They also may not be able to access loans or payment plans to allow them to do so due to financial exclusion.[9]

The requirements on private landlords are to meet minimum criteria by 2028. There are real concerns that these costs will be passed onto tenants with already rising costs in the private rental sector. This must be considered alongside increased protections for tenants in the form of rent freezes and caps.[10]

The Warmer Homes Scotland (WHS) scheme provides full funding for qualifying properties, Qualifying households include those in receipt of a ‘passport benefit’.  This does not fully account for households in poverty, only 37 per cent of owner-occupiers and private renters who experience poverty receive passport benefits, meaning around 200,000 households in poverty in private housing do not qualify (35% of the private sector).[11] These provisions must be re-considered, and sufficient financial support put in place.

The use of exemptions must be given – this must consider relative poverty and recognise that many will not be able to afford this.

Many of the prescribed new heating systems are electricity based. Electricity prices per unit are currently higher than gas prices per unit. This could act as a further driver of fuel poverty even after the transition is made. The Scottish Government will need to ensure the move to ‘clean’ heating systems does not result in more households living in fuel poverty.[12]

We note that a full CRIA has not been carried out yet but will be when the proposals become part of a Bill. We suggest that a partial CRIA could have been carried out even at this early stage but in any event, we hope that the future assessment includes the impacts on child poverty.

Ultimately, if the Government are to fulfil the commitments made in the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Act 2019, to ensure no household is in fuel poverty by 2040, then some consideration must be given to the issues we have raised.

If any further information is required then please contact Kate Thompson, Policy Officer at kate.thompson@cypcs.org.uk


[1] The emissions from this amounts to the 3rd largest source in Scotland

[2] Opportunity/Challenge 8: Ensure that policies, action and spend necessary to mitigate and adapt to the global impacts of climate change deliver a just transition for people in Scotland – Resource Spending Review: Equality and Fairer Scotland Statement – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

[3] No home left behind: Funding a just transition to clean heat in Scotland (svdcdn.com)

[4] Official child poverty statistics: Nearly a quarter of Scotland’s children still in poverty  | CPAG

[5] UK Poverty 2024: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK | Joseph Rowntree Foundation (jrf.org.uk)

[6] How fuel poverty affects children – Beat the Cold (beatcold.org.uk), The impact of Fuel Poverty on Children Professor Christine Liddell Fuel Poverty FINAL (savethechildren.org.uk)

[7] On fairness and a low carbon economy: a statement – Just Transition Commission

[8] No home left behind: Funding a just transition to clean heat in Scotland (svdcdn.com)

[9] Stage 2 – Evidence – Heat in Buildings Bill consultation: Fairer Scotland impact assessment – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

[10] Living Rent launch open letter calling for protections after rent cap – Living Rent

[11] No home left behind: Funding a just transition to clean heat in Scotland (svdcdn.com)

[12] Decarbonising heat in homes (audit-scotland.gov.uk)

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