THOUSANDS of Scots have had to seek emergency financial help in the past year to keep the lighting and heating on and avoid living in “Dickensian conditions”.

New figures obtained by the Sunday National show since April last year, nearly 140,000 people in Scotland have turned to a charity which provides vouchers to households with a prepayment gas and/or electricity meter when they have run out of money to top it up. 

The statistics from the Fuel Bank Foundation show the numbers have risen by 5% compared to April 2022 to March 2023, when 132,432 people sought assistance.

And requests from Scotland are disproportionately high, making up around a quarter of the total when England and Wales are included.

READ MORE: Highlands and Islands set to be most affected by energy bills

There have been 139,153 requests for financial assistance from Scotland since April 2023, with 320,807 in England and 58,202 in Wales.

Matthew Cole, head of Fuel Bank Foundation, which operates 155 fuel banks across Scotland, said: "The statistics paint a stark but very real picture of the fuel poverty crisis in Scotland.

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of desperate people turn to us for help because they don't have the money to top up their prepayment gas and/or electricity meter.

“Without our help, they face living in Dickensian conditions - no heating, lighting, hot water or power to cook a meal.

"Things aren't getting any better either. Higher energy bills, which are still significantly more than they were three years ago, and the cost of living crisis are continuing to have a major impact on low-income and vulnerable households across Scotland."

He added: “Since April 2023, we have seen the number of people helped by Fuel Bank Foundation in Scotland rise to more than 139,000, with a further increase forecast over the next 12 months.

"The Scottish Government has done more than most to provide financial support to people struggling with inflated household costs but more still needs to be done to level up the energy market so that living in a warm home doesn't become a luxury millions can't afford."

SNP MP Anne McLaughlin (below), who has campaigned for an overhaul of prepayment meters, said: “This is desperately sad because we know that most of these people will also be having periods of time when they are completely disconnected from their gas and electricity.

The National:

“It’s one of the remaining issues my All-Party Parliamentary Group is determined to resolve. I founded it because people on prepayment meters were paying more per unit of energy – we’ve managed to stop that now.

“They were paying higher daily standing charges and that has all but stopped.

“But the biggest problem is people running out of money. If you’re on a direct debit and run out of money, you get plenty of time to figure something out.

“Not that it’s easy for anyone but if you’re on a prepayment meter and run out of money, your access to heating and lighting stops immediately.

“We should not need a Fuel Bank Foundation - thank goodness they exist but we should not need them - because nobody should be suddenly plunged into the cold and dark, it’s just not acceptable.”

The shocking statistics come in the same week that British Gas announced its profits for 2023 increased 10-fold to £750m.

READ MORE: Scots using cafes to keep warm in cost of living crisis, charity warns

The energy supplier was at the centre of a scandal last year after it was revealed debt agents working for the firm had broken into vulnerable people’s homes to force-fit meters.

Following the profits announcement the boss of British Gas’s parent company Centrica renewed calls for a “social tariff” which will let poorer Britons pay less for their gas and electricity.

McLaughlin added the need for the vouchers is greater in Scotland because it has a colder climate.

She added: “The Scottish Government, with one hand tied behind its back, does more for people than any other government on these islands - and the Scottish Child Payment is one great example.

“But they can’t take away the cold - and ridiculously, they can’t do anything about the cost of energy or the fact that whilst the living standards of ordinary people drop, the profits of companies like British Gas reach obscene levels.

“If we want to do something about that, we have two choices – hope a UK Government does it when they never have before or become an independent country so a Scottish Government can make these decisions and create a fairer system for everyone.”