Fuel Poverty is the term used to describe the situation whereby a household is required to spend more than 10% of their income on household fuel bills.
The 2016 House Condition Survey (HSC) final report, published in 2018.indicates that fuel poverty has decreased in Northern Ireland from 42% to 22%. This reduction is attributed to a combination of variables. The data for the HCS was collected back in 2016 when home heating oil was at an all-time low with the average price for 500 litres hitting £125 in January 2016. However, the same amount of heating oil now costs on average £268, that’s over 100% increase. The second likely variable to contribute is the many households benefiting from energy efficiency measures under the various schemes. Along with increased access to natural gas in many more towns across the region.
Three main causes of Fuel Poverty have been identified:
- low incomes
- energy inefficiency
- rising cost of fuel
Living in a cold damp home often directly causes poor health and well-being and can be a contributing factor to specific conditions such as:
- coronary heart disease
- respiratory illness
- compromised mental health
- social exclusion
The cold puts a strain on the body and every year in Northern Ireland there is around 800 excess winter deaths as a direct result of the cold, with many more becoming ill.
Who is at risk?
The most recent figures suggest that the highest rates of fuel poverty are found amongst older retired people, those not in work and those living in isolated rural dwellings. These vulnerable groups have not significantly changed since 2006 although the total numbers affected have increased overall. Factors such as the economic downturn and the rising fuel prices since 2006 have, and may continue to place more and more households at risk of fuel poverty.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Take measures to ensure your home is adequately heated, well ventilated, and free from damp and severe draughts.
- Keep an eye on room temperatures. Ensure your room thermostat is set to 21o C in living rooms and 18o C in all other rooms. Babies who are wrapped up in blankets can be kept in rooms at 18o C.
- Keep warmly dressed in cold weather by taking time to wrap up before you go out in the cold (hats, gloves, scarf and a good warm overcoat) and ensuring that you wear warm clothes (light layers such as vests work well) or a blanket while you sitting at home for long periods during cold weather.
What help is available?
With so many unclaimed benefits it is worth finding out if there is extra income available to you by getting a Benefit Entitlement Check. There are number of local agencies that can help you with this including NI Direct and Citizens Advice. For help making your home warmer there are grants and assistance for central heating and insulation measures. To help you budget for your home heating oil a Fuel Stamp Saving Scheme operates across the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.
If you're struggling with bills or to manage your money, click here for information on assistance and support