Fears have been expressed for island households struggling to cope with the latest energy price rises.
Last week’s 8.2% increase in domestic bills by Scottish and Southern Energy’s was described as “crippling” for areas with the highest levels of fuel poverty in Scotland.
Consumer organisations predict the other major energy companies will follow suit by jacking up electricity and gas prices this winter. The increase is expected to be felt far worse in Orkney and the Western Isles where around half of households are in fuel poverty – where a family must spend a tenth or more of income to keep warm.
Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “This latest increase is many times the rate of inflation and will create serious difficulties for many hard-pressed customers across the country, particularly in the islands.
“Orkney has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty anywhere in Scotland, with almost half of households in the islands now estimated to spend at least 10% of their disposable incoming on heating. This will only make the situation worse.”
Robert Leslie, environmental co-ordinator with Orkney Housing Association Ltd, said: “Coming on top of an 11% average rise in Scottish Hydro bills in September 2011, and a 9% hike in October 2012, this is a crippling blow to our most vulnerable tenants as we head into another winter.
“Before this announcement, I had already dealt in the past month with a number of electricity bill issues from residents.”
An independent survey found that the number of the association’s tenants in fuel poverty jumped from 36% in 2007 to 45% in 2010.
Mr Leslie said: “That survey is about to be repeated, and I think we can expect a substantial rise again, given that the overall Orkney fuel poverty figure stands at around 50%.
“That puts Orkney second only in Scotland to the Western Isles. It is a position that no one in our energy-rich islands can be proud of.”
Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: “I do think the fuel companies need to look seriously at the implications of what they are doing.
“At times like this everyone must make sure they get the best deal. There is a human cost in the Western Isles.”