The Scottish Government has said it will explore ways it can recover a cost-of-living rebate given to owners of second homes and instead use it on a “fair and equitable basis”.
The plans were announced by Tom Arthur as Holyrood held a debate on the UK Government’s energy bills support scheme on Wednesday.
The public finance minister told MSPs it is “clearly wrong” that the rebate will be received by people who can afford second homes or who own properties that are empty on a long-term basis.
All households in the UK are set to receive a £400 grant from October in a bid to reduce the impact of rising energy bills.
However, there has been criticism over the fact that second-home owners would be set to receive more than one £400 payment under the plans.
Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin said on Wednesday that the scheme will not deliver fairness across Scotland, adding that support to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis should be given to those who need it the most.
His party had called for the funding to be recovered and used to support low-income households in order to close what he called a “loophole” in the scheme.
Mr Griffin said: “We often talk about someone having to choose between heating and eating, but actually, the reality is that thousands will choose between starving or freezing.
“People will die this winter. That’s a crisis that will only get worse, so the Government must respond with action.
“The irony won’t be lost on anyone, then, that those best off, those able to run not one, but two homes, are set to pocket a windfall of almost £10 million between them, simply because they have another home that’s not their main residence.”
He suggested multiple payments would only “reward” people on higher incomes.
Mr Arthur confirmed the Scottish Government will be taking such an action, undertaking work alongside Scotland’s local governments and Cosla to explore options for recovering the money and how best to use it.
He told MSPs that he would be writing to Cosla on Wednesday afternoon on the matter.
The SNP MSP said: “In this cost-of-living crisis, it is vital resources are directed at those who need it most, so it is clearly wrong that second home owners or those who own long term empty homes benefit from a second £400 energy rebate.
“The Scottish Government will work with Cosla and local government to examine how to recover this money, including through a council tax levy.
“We will also work with them to examine how to use the funds raised to support local cost-of-living responses on a fair and equitable basis across Scotland.
“Through the budget for 2022/23, the Scottish Government has allocated almost £3 billion to a range of support that will contribute to mitigating the impact of the increased cost of living on households.
“This includes work to tackle child poverty, reduce inequalities and support financial wellbeing, alongside social security payments not available anywhere else in the UK.”