Fuel poverty is a major issue in Northern Ireland with 42 per cent of households in fuel poverty in 2011.
What is fuel poverty?
The usual definition of a fuel poor household is one that needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to obtain a satisfactory level of heating - that is, 20ºC in the living room and 18ºC in other occupied rooms. Essentially fuel poverty means not being able to keep your home adequately warm at a reasonable cost. It is generally caused by a combination of four factors:
- Poor household energy efficiency
- Low income
- Expensive fuel costs
- Under-occupancy: on average those in the most extreme fuel poverty live in larger than average homes
Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland
Fuel poverty is a major issue in Northern Ireland. According to the latest official figures, 42 per cent of households in Northern Ireland were in fuel poverty in 2011. The rate of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland is the highest compared to GB and ROI and one of the highest in Western Europe.
Who is affected by fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty can have serious implications on the health and well being of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and people living with disabilities or chronic illness. The vast majority of households in fuel poverty are owner occupied properties.
Action to tackle fuel poverty
The cost of energy remains a key concern for consumers. Between 2009 and 2012, the average annual price of home heating oil increased by 62 per cent , whereas gas bills in the Greater Belfast area have risen by 38 per cent between 1 April 2009 and 1 April 2013. The cost of both oil and gas has received a large degree of focus as prices have continued to increase and fuel poverty levels in NI have remained high.
In this context, the Consumer Council has identified a number of key areas were specific actions/interventions could have the potential to reduce the fuel poverty in NI. In summary they are:
What is the Consumer Council doing?
The Consumer Council represents consumers' interests and sits on both the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition Steering Group and in the Thematic Action Sub Groups emerging from the Department for Social Development Cross Sectoral Fuel Poverty Partnership.
We undertake research and lobby on behalf of the consumer to try to ensure that energy policy takes account of consumers and the effects of fuel poverty.
In addition, we have a statutory responsibility to represent consumers during electricity and gas price control and tariff reviews and will maintain pressure on energy companies to reduce prices wherever possible.
Help with paying to heat your home
Help is available for consumers to reduce their energy costs and make the most of their income:
Millions of pounds in benefits/tax credits go unclaimed in Northern Ireland every year. Consumers should check to see that they are receiving the correct level of benefits/tax credits, by contacting their local Social Security Agency/Tax Credit Office, or by speaking to Advice NI or Citizens Advice Bureau to check what benefits they are entitled to.
More Information on Tax Credits can be found by contacting the Tax Credit Helpline on Tel 0345 300 3900.
Energy efficiency does not have to be expensive and it can help save you money in the long term. A single payment, for example to fit loft insulation, will give you ongoing savings all year, every year. For more information contact the Bryson Energy Advice Line on 0800 1422 865 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Switch Payment Methods
Electricity and gas suppliers offer consumers a variety of ways to pay. For example you can pay weekly or quarterly by direct debit, or Pay As You Go. Some payment methods may offer you a discount. Contact your natural gas or electricity supplier for additional information.
Winter Fuel Payments
The Winter Fuel Payment is an annual payment to help older people with their fuel costs. The amount of Winter Fuel Payment depends on your personal circumstances. Contact the Winter Fuel Helpline on 03459 15 15 15 (0345 6060 285 for textphone users) or visit the website www.nidirect.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment. www.dsdni.gov.uk to find out if you are eligible and to get a claim form.
Advice NI - www.adviceni.net
Age Concern/ Help the Aged www.ageconcern.org.uk
Age Sector Platform www.agesectorplatform.org
Bryson Charitable Group www.brysongroup.org
Citizen Advice Bureau - www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Energy Saving Trust www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/northernireland
Macmillan Cancer Support www.macmillan.org.uk
National Energy Action www.nea.org.uk
NI Housing Executive www.nihe.gov.uk
Warm Homes Scheme www.warm-homes.com