Trading Standards Tackling Fuel Poverty Issues

Dumfries and Galloway Council approved the Dumfries and Galloway Anti-Poverty Strategy in June 2015. The strategy sets out what the Council will do to improve the lives of people in our region experiencing poverty, in all its forms. The Strategy identifies fuel poverty as one of the regions key challenges and cites this as a particular problem for vulnerable consumers. A household is in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, it would be required to spend more than 10% of its income on all household fuel use.

The rurality of Dumfries and Galloway adds to this challenge due to limited mains gas access and higher fuel prices generally. A recent study by Citizen’s Advice Scotland (September 2015) highlighted that homes in more remote locations can pay twice as much to heat their homes using oil heating than those connected to mains gas. Further to this, a lack of central heating is used as an indicator of deprivation and, commonly where there is no central heating, a coal fire is used as a single heat source or combined with electric heating.

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Trading Standards team regulates how heating oil and coal are sold and how they are measured and weighed prior to sale. Guidance on the risks of weighing and measuring equipment failure is given annually by the National Measurement and Regulation Office (NMRO) based on statutory returns by Trading Standards. Oil tanker meters are considered to be high risk due to high value of the product: the consumer cannot see for themselves how much is delivered and a high failure rate was found when they were tested nationally (10% failure rate UK wide). Coal scales belong to a category of weighing machines which also have a high failure rate (11% UK wide) but tend to be used for lower value goods and are therefore considered to be medium risk.

Following investigations into these discrepancies our Trading Standards team embarked on a project to test oil tanker meters and coal scales for traders based in Dumfries and Galloway.

There are 14 coal yards in Dumfries and Galloway and 27 domestic heating oil tankers, of these the team tested 5 scales and 13 tanker meters, spread across the region. One of the oil tanker meters failed, as did one of the coal scales.  (This makes Dumfries and Galloway above the national percentage, but results will be skewed because of the small sample size.)

When analysed, this causes a significant problem for householders: For a household with a coal fire as the sole source of heat it would be reasonable to assume that an average of one bag of coal per week may be consumed throughout the year (two bags per week in cooler months, none in warmer months). At current prices this would cost approximately £728. A single person on a basic state pension would receive just over £6,000 annually and would therefore be in fuel poverty as the cost of coal would be more than 10% of their income. If each bag of coal was 10% short in weight then the degree of fuel poverty would increase as 5 additional bags of coal would be needed to provide the required level of heat. This would put the annual cost of coal up to £800 for that householder sending them further into fuel poverty.

A similar single person on a state pension with oil central heating may consume approximately 2,000 litres of heating oil annually. At current prices (February 2016, based on 30p/L) this would cost £600. This householder would also be just touching the fuel poverty line. However, the current price for heating oil is exceptionally low and will undoubtedly rise significantly in future. Only a year ago the price of heating oil was 60p/L, which would double the cost of heating oil in the example above, placing that householder well into fuel poverty. A 10% deficit in their oil delivery would necessitate an additional delivery of 200L, costing an additional £60 at current prices or £120 at last years’ rate.

Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, Councillor Ronnie Nicholson said: “Through the Council’s Anti-Poverty Strategy we have promised to tackle the causes and effects of inequality and poverty, which is one of the Council’s top priorities. Fuel poverty has been recognised as a specific challenge in the Strategy.

The impact of fuel poverty could be reduced by ensuring that consumers get what they are paying for when they purchase coal or heating oil. A moderate degree of short weight or measure delivered to a household already in fuel poverty could have a significant detrimental effect to that householder in the longer term and I am very pleased to hear our Trading Standards Team have identified and are tackling this problem at its source.”



Citizens Advice Scotland, Remotely Excluded: Barriers facing Scotland’s rural consumers, September 2015

Dumfries and Galloway Council, On the Up: Anti-Poverty Strategy 2015-2020, 25 June 2015,

National Measurement & Regulation Office, Weights and Measures Act 1985, Section 70 returns, Annual Report 2014-15

Scottish Fuel Poverty Statement 2002,


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