Fuel poverty disproportionally affects the lives of people in remote and rural areas and is a historical issue in Orkney typically due to reduced energy-efficient homes and being more reliant on potentially more expensive heating fuels

Since 2019, a household is defined as fuel-poor if heating the home to an appropriate temperature costs more than 10% of the net household income following adjustments for housing costs, childcare costs, and any benefits received. When more than 20% of income goes towards heating costs,If this figure is 20% then the household is classed as extremely fuel poor. 

In the 2019  Scottish House Condition Survey over half of the population in Orkney was considered either fuel poor (31%) or extremely fuel poor (22%), higher than the average in Scotland. Statutory targets set by the Scottish Government are that in 2040: no more than 5% of households should be in fuel poverty and no more than 1% of households should be in extreme fuel poverty.

Why is fuel poverty high in Orkney?

The main factors contributing to fuel poverty in Orkney include:

  • Climate
  • Income
  • Costs of energy
  • Housing conditions

The realities of fuel poverty will differ between individuals. For many, it will mean having less disposable income, for some it may result in avoiding heating their homes, and those on low incomes experiencing extreme fuel poverty, it could mean no disposable income and seeking support with their bills.



Despite having relatively high temperatures compared to central Scotland due to the impact of the gulf stream, Orkney sees little winter sunshine and high wind speeds as a result of the northerly and coastal island location. 

These factors lead to a longer than average heating season. Historically poorly built housing suffers from high levels of heat loss due to wind chill and drafts and socially, more time is spent indoors during long winter nights. 



The difference in income varies across the county, with East and West Mainland being closer to the Scottish national average and the outer isles being furthest from it.  A 2015 survey identified that the average income in the outer islands was around £10,000 below the Scottish average of £34,619. 

On average, it costs 20% more to live in rural island areas than in more central towns. This figure rises to around 30% for small remote islands like Orkney’s outer islands. The higher cost of living is due to multiple factors including, but not limited to, higher fuel prices, higher transport charges, and shipping costs. Alongside this, we have seen rises in the cost of land and housing. This has meant that the historic advantage of lower cost of housing has been eroded whilst higher running costs remain. 

Cost of energy

Cost of energy

Data from the energy performance certificate (EPC) surveys of 6537 houses in Orkney showed that around 70% used electricity as the primary heating source, around 24% use oil, 4% use coal, 1% use biomass and 1% have no central heating. Depending on these energy sources can result in a higher cost for households due to the restricted range of suppliers, and historically Orkney has higher than caused by the additional transmission charges.

Housing conditions

Housing conditions

Housing quality in Orkney is typically lower than the Scottish national average, with 5% of houses considered to be in poor condition compared to 1% across Scotland. This is due to Orkney having an older than average housing stock, with poorer insulation, and often reduced energy efficiency and increased damp. Around 35% of properties sampled were poorly insulated and between 6 and 8% experienced damp, compared to the Scottish average of 3%. 

Improving the energy efficiency of homes by putting in double glazing and insulation is expensive. This is particularly the case with older and custom-built properties, that require individual assessments and installations, rather than areas of the same property style and type. There are different insulation options available. The most common in Orkney are loft top-ups, underfloor insulation and solid wall insulation, either attached internally or externally. 

Fuel poverty support in Orkney

Efforts to tackle fuel poverty have come from various organisations including Orkney Islands Council, the Scottish Government, and the THAW Orkney charity.

If you are looking for support or advice with your energy bills please contact the following organisations:

THAW Orkney, a local charity working to alleviate fuel poverty:

01856 878 388


Citizen’s Advice Scotland Orkney, for free and confidential advice.

01856 875266

6 Bridge Street, Kirkwall, KW15 1HR


Reducing fuel poverty can be achieved by increasing income and addressing wider poverty issues. Alternatively, fuel poverty can be reduced by needing less energy through energy efficiency, or else by reducing the amount of energy purchased through personal generation. Beyond simple energy conservation measures, both options require capital; something that is by definition in short supply for those in financial hardship. 

Significant progress has been made in recent years in improving the efficiency of publicly owned social housing stock. In addition, new housing is being built to higher standards than before. This, therefore, leaves the existing privately owned housing as the main area where interventions can be made.  

As pressure increases towards reducing fuel poverty levels, opportunities identified include:

Installing many of these can however be expensive, it is, therefore, vital to consider how to make privately owned generation and storage feasible in all households or how we get power from the larger generators to fuel poor households. Over the years a number of initiatives and grants have been available to allow for the energy transition. To find out about current grants please visit the official government websites.

In relation to energy efficiency specifically, new legislation for privately rented property is likely to come into place, where all new tenancies must achieve a minimum EPC rating of C by 2025, and by 2028, all rental properties must reach the same minimum standard.

Finally, the development of the renewable energy sector in Orkney will contribute to local employment opportunities, supply chain development, infrastructure improvements, and inward investment, attracting students and a more diverse community.

DSCN4725 - domestic turbine
Solar PV panels on Westrow Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Orphir (K. Bichan)