WINTER is well and truly upon us.

The dark nights are here and the days have got a lot colder. It's the time of year when people want to turn the heating up and keep warm.

But that means it's also the time of year when people worry much more about their heating bills and how they will manage to pay them. Massive price rises from many of the big energy companies make matters even worse.

For many people, these rises will make it much harder to find the money for heating costs this winter. For others, it will mean that they end up in the official fuel poor category, unable to affordably heat their homes. For every 5% increase in energy prices, another 46,000 Scots will find themselves living in fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty is a scandal in any country in this day and age – but in energy rich Scotland, it is particularly unacceptable. Given these rising prices, it is little wonder that a recent survey showed nearly 80% of Scots are worried about their energy bills this winter.

Unfortunately, price regulation is the responsibility of the Westminster government and, so far, they have delivered more empty rhetoric than real action.

It's about time, the Prime Minister deliv-ered on his promise to have more people off-ered the lowest tariff by their energy supplier.

But though regulation is reserved to Westminster, there is action that the Scottish Government is taking to help people make their homes more energy efficient and keep their bills down.

THE Scottish Government's Home Energy Hotline is available for anyone in Scotland to call, free, to get access to advice or practical help in reducing energy bills.

There is a range of help available to people depending on their circumstances – from simple advice through to free loft or cavity wall insulation, money off a new boiler or the installation of a new central heating system at no cost. Since 2009, more than 230,000 Scots have been given advice on how to cut heating bills and more than 24,000 heating systems have been installed.

Last year, 12,000 households got vouch-ers towards new boilers and many more got free insulation fitted.

These practical measures will not only help people cut costs but also improve, for the longer term, the energy efficiency and environmental friendli-ness of Scotland's housing stock.

And the Scottish Government is determined to continue this kind of help.

Over this and the next two years, we will invest £200million to tackle fuel poverty. By contrast, England's fuel poverty budget is being cut to zero.

So if anyone reading this feels they would benefit from advice or wants to know if they are eligible for any of the practical help on offer, call 0800 512 012. Online information is available at