Belfast Telegraph

Students struggle to afford winter heating

By Lisa Smyth

The president of the students’ union at the University of Ulster has warned an increasing number of graduates will be living in fuel poverty as a result of the recession.

Adrian Kelly — a member of the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition — said difficulty in finding employment and debt accrued while at university mean many students can expect to live in fuel poverty after they graduate.

The Belfast Telegraph has joined with the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition to demand action from the Executive to freeze out fuel poverty — which kills 1,000 people here each winter.

Mr Kelly also highlighted the difficulties faced by students in heating their homes and said students who are fortunate enough to be able to afford home heating oil can be targeted by thieves.

“Students are seen as easy targets to steal fuel such as heating oil from, as they often vacate their rented homes for the weekends and Christmas holidays,” he said.

“Many return to their rented home after a holiday period or weekend to find that their oil has been siphoned from their tank and they simply cannot afford to purchase a second fill. Living in a house with a number of other people can cause difficulties as some can afford to pay their contribution but others cannot.

“The level of financial support can vary greatly between students. Some may receive less financial assistance from the state or university due to their parents’ income, but this does not mean they do not feel the same financial pressures as others in purchasing heating oil or other fuel sources.

“For many students it is their first time living away from home and they can be unsure of how much fuel they will require and therefore do not budget enough money for this and find themselves going without at latter stages of the winter.”

Mr Kelly said the union helped about 140 students last year concerned about how they would pay for fuel to heat their homes.

“Many students, just like others in fuel poverty, simply try to endure this period,” he said.

“They spend longer times in university and public buildings as they will be heated.

“They will stay with friends as much as possible but inevitably this period of time will have negative impacts on their health.”

He said some students take on part time employment, causing a detrimental impact on studies.

He continued: “A number of students also try and live more at their family home than at their rented accommodation when suffering from fuel poverty.

“This too can have a detrimental impact on their studies as they are then missing lectures.”

He expressed disappointment that the Department for Social Development works to alleviate, not eradicate fuel poverty.

“I don’t think it is acceptable for anyone to have to suffer fuel poverty, so to try and alleviate simply doesn’t go far enough.

“ Mechanisms should be put in place to simply eradicate it.”

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