30,000 households in Northern Ireland in heating costs hole
More than 30,000 households in Northern Ireland spend over a quarter of their income on heating, it has emerged.
The shocking figure was revealed by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland at the annual Fuel Poverty Coalition conference yesterday.
The news comes after the Belfast Telegraph laid bare the findings of exclusive research which throws into sharp focus the deepening crisis of fuel-poor homes – including the fact that seven out of 10 people cut back on food to pay their energy bills.
Yesterday's seminar, entitled Running On Empty, was prompted by energy price increases and the revelation that Northern Ireland has more fuel-poor homes than anywhere else in the UK – or western Europe.
Mr McCausland, the keynote speaker, told delegates the situation was a pressing concern.
He said: "In April 2011 my department launched its fuel poverty strategy which emphasised the need for a partnership approach to tackle fuel poverty and we have been working with colleagues across Government to ensure this important issue is tackled."
The Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, which was behind the conference at Belfast's Park Avenue Hotel, claimed that one-in-four householders can't afford to keep warm at a reasonable cost.
Indeed, of the four UK nations Northern Ireland (42%) has the greatest proportion of fuel-poor households, followed by Wales (29%), Scotland (25%) and England (15%), according to the Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2013.
The minister said there had been progress on several key initiatives which are aimed at tackling fuel poverty, including:
- More than £150m spent on the warm homes scheme since 2001, which has assisted 117,000-plus households.
- The boiler replacement scheme, launched in 2012, has already exceeded its first year target, with 8,700 new boilers now installed across Northern Ireland.
- Winter fuel payments provide financial assistance towards the cost of heating homes for all those people born on or before January 5, 1952.
During the conference, it also emerged that eight out of 10 people struggle to heat their homes, while almost everyone worries about bills.
Those present heard that, when it is cold, almost four out of 10 use less heating than they would like.
A household is said to be fuel poor if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain satisfactory heat, which means 21C for the main living area. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported in 2011 that the poorest tenth of households spent more than a fifth of their budget on fuel.