IT MAY seem counterintuitive, but if you are living in poverty then there’s a good chance you are going to pay more for basic goods and services than those who are not.

According to the UK Government, anyone getting by on 60 per cent or less of the median UK income is classed as being in relative poverty, with around 20 per cent of people in Scotland falling into that bracket.

That means a fifth of the population survive on just £248 a week if they are a couple with no children or £144 a week if they are a single person with no children.

While that cash must pay for everything from food and rent to fuel and clothing, a 2016 report from Bristol University found that people in poverty are paying a premium for these items precisely because of their poverty.

Jim McCormick, associate director of social policy charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said that on average the poverty premium amounts to £500 a year.

“It might be that people are paying more for credit or paying a higher fuel tariff, or it might be something as simple as they can’t pay their bills by direct debit - if people want or need to pay more frequently in cash they pay extra for that,” he said.

One of the main problems with poverty is that it can be self-perpetuating, with the inability to service debt leading to poor credit histories which in turn results in people paying more for the debt they need to heat their homes or feed their families.

Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance, said a by-product of this is that people who are already paying the poverty premium will naturally begin to take steps that disadvantage them even further.

“People are trying to budget on flat-lining incomes. In that situation people want to minimise risk,” he said.

“As energy costs are the main source of the poverty premium, switching energy supplier is one of the key ways of reducing the premium but very often people don’t want to switch because it is seen as opening themselves up to further risk.

“There’s a fear that they will end up paying more in the long term.”

Stagnant wages and high levels of inflation mean it is not just those on benefits that are living below the poverty line, with increasing numbers of people experiencing in-work poverty too.

Indeed, figures from the Scottish Government suggest that around two-thirds of those living in poverty in Scotland come from working households.

Ashley Coyne of the Poverty Truth Commission said that over her eight years working with the organisation she has seen a marked increase in the number of working people struggling to make ends meet.

“When I joined at first we idealistically thought that within a couple of years we would get to see real change driven by the things we were pointing out to government,” Ms Coyne said.

“Now what I am seeing is that more people are affected by this every day.

“The assumption from the general public is that those who experience poverty are on benefits, but there is in-work poverty at really high rates.”

A number of organisations are starting to make a difference, with Scotcash, Fair For You and Conduit Scotland all offering an alternative to high-cost credit on a not-for-profit basis.

In the energy space Our Power, an Edinburgh-based housing association-owned provider that pro-actively takes customers off high-cost pre-payment meters, is gaining traction too.

Yet these organisations can only do so much.

For Mr Kelly, because fuel poverty is recognised as being the biggest contributor to overall poverty levels, the onus should be on all energy companies to do more to proactively help all their customers access their cheapest deals.

“There’s a market for companies to look at what they can do to make sure that if someone is on the standard tariff for a longer period of time than they should be they do something to help them change,” he said.

The fact that companies do not do this and instead offer their best deals only to those customers who are savvy enough to track down the offers first, suggests there has been a “failure of regulation”, Mr Kelly said.

For Ms Coyne this is the crux, with legislators proving good at listening to organisations such as the Poverty Truth Commission but less good at acting on what they hear.

“Changes from higher levels of society are really needed to tackle these issues,” she said.

“It’s not necessarily that people who are experiencing poverty could be doing more to help themselves. It needs to come from a much higher level.”