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Alex Attwood and consumer body in ‘warm zones’ rift

A Government funded consumer body is on a collision course with a Stormont minister over the battle against fuel poverty.

The Minister for Social Development Alex Attwood has said it is not possible to eradicate fuel poverty completely, but in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph he detailed the efforts he is making to reduce the number of people in Northern Ireland who cannot afford to heat their homes.

However, the two lead partners in the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition have hit out after Mr Attwood said he could not justify implementing Warm Zones, an energy efficiency model favoured by the campaigning organisations.

Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people in Western Europe struggling to pay their fuel bills. As one of a number of initiatives, the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition — which has criticised Mr Attwood’s refusal to commit to eradicating fuel poverty — has called for the Warm Zones scheme to be introduced here.

The Warm Zones scheme was implemented in Kirklees in west Yorkshire at a cost of £20m over three years.

It included £10m of Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) funding from Scottish Power and £10m from the Kirklees Council Capital Plan.

During this time, 20,324 homes had cavity wall insulation installed and 40,238 had their lofts insulated. A total of 128,303 carbon monoxide detectors were issued to participating householders.

In Northern Ireland, an energy efficiency scheme — Warm Homes — is in place, but is not available to every household.

Since it was introduced in Northern Ireland in July 2001, 71,000 households have been assisted, but the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition has argued the Kirklees model would deliver much better results with significantly less administration.

A statement from the Consumer Council and National Energy Action (NEA) said: “We want to ensure that everything reasonably practicable is done to eliminate fuel poverty here.

“The coalition will continue to call for a collegiate approach across Northern Ireland Executive and Government departments to ensure this happens now.”

Belfast Telegraph