Poorer households across Northern Ireland are at the mercy of a postcode lottery which dictates whether or not they can heat their homes.
As Northern Ireland experiences some of the coldest temperatures on record, as part of its campaign against fuel poverty the Belfast Telegraph can reveal home heating oil can differ in price by as much as £30 depending on where you live.
An analysis of figures collated by the Consumer Council reveal massive gaps in the prices of home heating oil around the province.
This week, 300 litres of home heating oil in Londonderry was more than £30 dearer than in Armagh.
At the end of November, people in Enniskillen paid £421 for 900 litres compared to £448 in Ballynahinch.
The Belfast Telegraph has teamed up with the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition to demand action from the Government to address fuel poverty and protect some of the most vulnerable members of society.
There are 1,000 additional deaths in Northern Ireland every winter as a result of cold related illnesses, such as pneumonia and flu, and the coalition has called for a range of measures to be introduced by the Executive in order to stop people living in misery and, ultimately, save lives.
Fuel poverty is caused by three factors — high fuel prices, low income and poor energy efficiency in the home.
The Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition wants the Northern Ireland Executive to explore regulation of the home heating oil industry to put an end to the price variations and ensure everyone can heat their home.
Antoinette McKeown, chief executive of the Consumer Council — a lead member of the coalition, said: “With over two-thirds of households in Northern Ireland relying on oil for heating and constant sub zero temperatures, it is time for the Northern Ireland Executive to consider if consumers are getting the best deal and service from the oil industry.
“Gas is the main supplier to only 17% of households here yet it is subject to regulation whilst the home heating oil industry — the biggest supplier of energy — is not.
“Currently consumers have no guarantee of a fair deal for the high cost of keeping warm in their homes. Regulation of the oil industry would provide home heating oil consumers with a greater level of protection than they receive at this moment, and |provide a guaranteed minimum social provision for the 44% of households here living in fuel poverty.
“The Consumer Council and National Energy Action — along with 58 other organisations — have come together to form the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition.
“The aim of the coalition is to highlight the urgent action needed to eradicate the unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty that continue to persist in Northern Ireland and to drive forward the fuel poverty agenda.”
The Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition and the Belfast Telegraph is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to:
Develop a detailed, costed action-plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Northern Ireland
Provide support to all fuel-poor households to stay warm until fuel poverty is eradicated.
To see the full charter and add your name in support of it, log onto www.fuelpovertycoalition.