Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland tops list of fuel poor homes

Stormont hosts five-nation forum on spiralling household energy costs

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland has more fuel poor homes than anywhere else in the UK or Ireland, it has emerged.

The revelation came ahead of a five-nations conference at Stormont on Monday aimed at finding a solution to the growing problem.

Experts from the province were joined by their English, Republic of Ireland, Scottish and Welsh counterparts in the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings to examine the fuel poverty policies in place in the different countries.

Of the four UK nations, Northern Ireland (44%) has the greatest proportion of fuel poor households, followed by Scotland (33%), Wales (26%) and England (18%), according to the Annual Report on Fuel Poverty Statistics 2011.

The figures also show that — based on households who are spending 10% of annual income on energy costs — this is an issue for 19% of homes in the Republic.

Antoinette McKeown, joint chair of the Fuel Poverty Coalition said the organisation was “relentless in pursuit of practical ways” to remove homes from fuel poverty.

“Northern Ireland suffers the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK and Ireland so there is real value in learning from fuel poverty experts from each of the five nations,” Ms McKeown said.

“The Fuel Poverty Coalition is focused on working with the Stormont Executive team on practical and positive solutions and this event will have a very useful impact on that work.”

Monday’s event, which was hosted by Alex Maskey, chairman of the social development committee, drew MLAs, local MPs, young and older persons’ groups and voluntary and community organisations, among others.

Discussions focused on key successes, challenges, lessons learnt and practical measures that could make a difference for Northern Ireland.

Joint FPC chairwoman Pat Austin said the event could be used as a springboard for establishing a suitable strategy.

“We call on the Executive to examine in detail the evidence presented at the five-nations fuel poverty event to inform the development of a detailed action plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated here,” she said.

Norman Kerr, director of Energy Action, Scotland, said it was time to act.

“We can no longer afford to sit back and wait on the fuel poor coming forward to seek help, we need to go out into communities and find them,” said Mr Kerr.

Meanwhile, Consumer Focus spokes-man William Baker said current Government plans were not enough to tackle the scale of the problem.

Monday’s event coincided with the publication of the Assembly committee for social development’s report on fuel poverty.

The report calls for thematic action groups which would be tasked with identifying workable solutions.

Among the practical considerations explored in the report are the feasibility of alternative payment options for home heating oil such as pay-as-you-go schemes and the regulation of the oil industry.

It also calls for the issue of expensive 20-litre drums of oil that are used by some people to get through a short cold period to be addressed.

Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of fuel poverty than the other nations because of a high percentage of households without access to the gas grid and who therefore have to use more expensive fuels to heat their homes, and on lower incomes.

Background

A household is said to be fuel poor if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain an adequate level of warmth. Fuel poverty is therefore based on modelled spending on energy, rather than actual spending. Although the emphasis in the definition is on heating the home, modelled fuel costs in the definition of fuel poverty also include spending on heating water, lights and appliance usage and cooking costs.

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